The Singles Bar: Alicia Keys, "New Day"

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What's inspired Alicia Keys this time? Ask her, and she'll mention things like stability, connection, purpose and other abstract nouns--the linguistic equivalent of her old music, which was always competent and stately and mature and occasionally haunting (most recently, on "Un-Thinkable") but never quite exciting. Hearing new track "New Day," though, we've got to credit something else: the musical landscape. That's also pretty abstract, but listen below and you'll hear why within a second or two. Then we'll explain.

Perhaps "the musical landscape" was a bit broad. The clear inspiration for these clattering military drums, party-hearty lyrics and brash-and-scattered vocals is traceable to one person: husband Swizz Beatz. Astonishingly, the two haven't collaborated musically very often; their highest-profile track until now's probably 2010s' semi-shelved single "Put It in a Love Song," rumored to have been quietly sidelined for sounding too much like guest Beyonce and not enough like Keys. That's true, but it's also not the worst sound for Keys; you wondered whether--and hoped that--she'd revisit that. (The YouTube comments, predictably, are split between people complaining that this isn't her old sound, people gleefully dismissing her old sound, and someone going "I write this comment, therefore I exist. Also liver.")

If only Keys fully revisited that; "New Day" only goes halfway. The first clue's the chorus and its "party people, party people, party people say hey / it's a new day," refrain two entirely different sentiments--one inspirational, one inspirational mainly for clubgoers--corraled into one line. If you're here for the frenetic Swizz Beatz parts, you probably won't appreciate that they're interspersed with sections of piano uplift without the lift; if you like Keys for her ballads and piano work, you definitely won't like how Beatz minces it all toward the end. Either route could've made for a solid song, and the Beatz route could've constituted a new direction (our bias reveals itself, but too many karaoke-show performances of "Fallin'" and "No One" have rendered them prematurely dead). As it stands, this isn't a new day so much as the wee hours beforehand. No one's at their most energetic then.