Call Alicia Keys old-fashioned – she does begin her fifth studio album with an instrumental that flaunts her classical piano training. But she's an iconoclast, not an anachronist, spicing her flavorful midtempo songs and gusty inspirational ballads with odd chords, unexpected melodic twists, and rock and reggae flourishes. Even radio-ready tracks like "New Day," with its rugged, martial beat from Dr. Dre and husband Swizz Beatz, and the Nicki Minaj-abetted power-ballad title cut, avoid trendy production. Instead, she follows her muse, and foregrounds the tunes. The result is both her catchiest and subtlest album yet – and one of the best R&B records of 2012.
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