This week's pop/rock reviews


The Element of Freedom Sony**

She was feted as something of a nu-soul visionary upon the release of her huge debut in 2001, but everything Alicia Keys has done since has been distinctly underwhelming. Despite the assistance of Jay-Z on their recent collaborative single, Keys’s fifth album is more of the same: a record that struggles to locate the middle ground between soulful balladry and bombastic stomp. Lyrical subtlety is not her forte, either, as she hammers out clichéd couplets on hugely overproduced and schmaltzy soul-flecked tunes. Only Beyoncé’s contribution to the fabulous beat-driven Put It in a Love Song prevents further ruination. Keys is unquestionably talented, but she needs a firm steering hand and a producer that doesn’t gloss her songs with a dreary r’n’b uniformity. LAUREN MURPHY

Download tracks:Put It in a Love Song, Empire State of Mind (Part II)

The Ventriloquist Sleep Like Wolves**

In the early 1990s a band called Daisy Chainsaw came, saw and disappeared, courtesy of refusing an offer to sign with Madonna’s Maverick label – though not before lead singer Katie Jane Garside influenced the likes of the riot grrl movement with her on-stage shenanigans. (You know: rag dolls strewn around the stage, performances in soiled clothes while drinking from a baby bottle: standard sub-Virgin Prunes carry-on.) Garside subsequently became something of an artist, but she still likes to frighten the children, which brings us neatly to The Ventriloquist. Folk noir is the overall tone, and while some of Garside’s songs are actually quite good examples of an artsy blend of English folk and gothic Americana, the album is let down by a shocking lack of cohesion. It also doesn’t help when one utterly unlistenable song (16 minutes of John 3.16) drags down what comes before and after. TONY CLAYTON-LEA

Download track:Naked Ruby