Since the release of her debut album in 2001, Alicia Keys has had a string of top class, hit singles that have set her up as one of the smoothest and most proficient young soul singers around. She’s also had an endless number of hit collaborations with other artists, and her last CD, As I Am was widely heralded as one of the best albums of 2007. This is no small for feat for her latest release, The Element Of Freedom to live up to.

Ironically enough, there seems to be very little about freedom itself on the album as Keys slides her way through songs like “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart,” “Love Is Blind,” and “Love Is My Disease.” But perhaps she finds empowerment and liberty in being desperately in love with someone and this is just her way of telling us.

A definite crowd puller on the CD will be Keys’ solo version of her number one hit with Jay Z – “Empire State Of Mind.” Laid bare and “broken down,” she sings with only a soft piano accompaniment and her words are so evocative that the bright lights and avenues of New York City just about appear before you when listening to her.

Another highlight is “Put It In A Love Song” featuring Beyonce. While the lyrics here are far from intellectual, or even particularly interesting, it is great to listen to these two powerhouse singers in one song. It’s yet another top-notch collaboration for Keys to add to her list.

Other catchy songs on the album include the delicate ballad, “Wait ‘Til You See My Smile” and the R&B tunes “This Bed” and “Love Is My Disease.” Unfortunately, most of the other tracks fade into each other and into the background.

Over half the songs on The Element Of Freedom feel like they’re on there simply to act as padding between the really good tracks. But those good songs, when Keys hits her lyrical and vocal stride, are quite something to behold. Fans will love it for Keys’ consistency in her work, but it still fails to be an awe-inspiring record.