Friday, January 29th, 2010

Alicia Keys – Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart

But man, if ever there was a scene made for Shipley’s First Hypothesis, it may well have been the bit where Alicia heals a dead dog…


Al Shipley: This is more synth and drum machine-driven than the average Keys single, but the melody sounds like it was written for an Olympics opening ceremony. And the tension between the contemporary production, the cheeseball tune, and the restrained but sexy vocal is what makes it work.

Matt Cibula: Okay, THIS is what A.Keys should be doing — mixing up the decades, nailing down a pretty song through careful singing instead of trying to show off her (overrated) pipes. And I rather admire where the song goes, lyrically.

Alex Macpherson: With its crashing drums and whirring bass reminiscent of “The Beautiful Ones”, “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart” revs up like a jet taking off. Appropriately, Alicia Keys delivers a tour de force performance, at once curl-up-under-the-duvet intimate and scream-it-from-the-rooftops desperate: she trembles with lust, gasps beneath suffocating loneliness, punches the air with anthemic determination. The song is a cascade of spine-shivering moments: the plea of “well, you can try sleeping in my bed,” the peal of “you know that I’ll always be in love with you,” the explosion of the chorus, the implosion as a drifting piano line fades to black.

Alfred Soto: I hate this woman and her phony, pus-infused nuevo soul schtick. This time she lets cold synthesizers and booming drums carry the emotion that’s beyond her voice and brain. Its brevity is a plus. But how on earth do some people hear Prince in this thing? “The Beautiful Ones” was weird; this is co-dependent.

John Seroff: Alicia Keys’ debt to Prince is obvious. Much of her music references his style and sound; she even managed to eke out a minor hit with her remake of “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore”. “Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart” manages the odd feat of sounding more like it was written by Prince than her Prince cover does; the growling intro, the breathy acrobatic vocal tenor, the corny 80’s synths, the clipped pacing, the drum machine percussion and the underlying simplicity of the theme all hearken back to Parade-era Purple in the worst way. I say “worst way” because what “Broken Heart” gains in verisimilitude, it lacks in verve and personality. As of late, Keys has buffed her ragged edges and burliness down to an arena sheen. Must all be part of her growth as a commodity; she’s just at home these days on 106 and Park or Lite FM. I suppose that’s good news for Sony’s shareholders, but I miss the days when Alicia’s voice had grit and snarl and her music had more texture than a frappe.

Martin Kavka: The beat is so ordinary, and Keys’ voice so thin, that it makes the broken heart seem as serious as a misplaced Hello Kitty notebook. And the sentiment is just weird — if “making it without you” is equivalent to “holding on to the times that we had,” is it really without you? Is it really making it? I’ve never respected the you-dumped-me-so-now-I-will-go-to-the-club-and-be-slutty genre as much as I do after listening to this dreck.

Anthony Miccio: “No One” is Alicia’s only previous single to excite me enough to look past her insufferable preening, and this one works much in the same way: Classical fanfare and classic breakbeat run through synth-filters until novel while Alicia gets endearingly – and humanizingly – close to bawling. I found the previous pledge of devotion more affecting than this pledge to endure (like her ability to overcome obstacles was ever in doubt), but the formula still works.

Edward Okulicz: Alicia Keys is, emotionally speaking, the girl who cried heartbreak once too often. It’s good to hear her pick out some heretofore untapped warmth in her voice, and the bright arrangement is an unexpected surprise. But the verses here are a problem; she’s always been a shrill over-emoter because her voice is just so smugly unsympathetic, and here she sounds reined in, but even more so like she’s suffocating.

Alex Ostroff: For all her classical training and songwriting ability and commercial success, I’m never exactly sure who Alicia Keys is as an artist/persona/pop star. That said, this song is massive and anthemic in all the right ways. “Have you ever tried sleeping with a broken heart? Well, you could try sleeping in my bed.” is a great histrionic line – one of many. From a million miles away to the bottom of the sea, “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart” fully commits itself to melodrama and succeeds admirably.

Martin Skidmore: A big ballad, sung and composed with skill, but it lacks anything to grab me — energy or excitement, passion or power, towards the end even a sense of direction and purpose. I can only shrug.

Anthony Easton: Formally so perfect that the heartbreak does not seem real, and not even in a false bravado, my-skills-overwhelm-my-sadness kind of way.

Michaelangelo Matos: The verses sound like Klymaxx. The chorus sounds like subpar Klymaxx.

Doug Robertson: There’s a bit of an Eighties Whitney vibe going on here, but Alica’s not Whitney and, no matter what a cursory traipse through the synth-tastic charts might make you think, it is definitely not the eighties either.

Mallory O’Donnell: Sort of the greatest wet-eyed walking in the rain montage song for a nonexistent 80’s black comedy in which rock concerts are attended and life lessons are learned. Sort of.

Tom Ewing: The “we built this city” keyboard twinkles, the somehow muffled drums, the rising synth buzzes – this is kind of a high-budget take on glo-fi! Well, perhaps not, but the sound of the record would be intriguing and snuggly even if Keys didn’t absolutely smash the song – her soaring determination, that firework “I’ll always be IN LOVE WITH YOU”, the way she takes such an absurdly epic track (lightning crashes on the chorus) and keeps it conversational so the “la la lala” scatting at the end feels like a quiet victory. A treasure.

Cecily Nowell-Smith: Some feelings are so little and fragile you have to curl in on yourself to keep them safe; some feelings are so total it’s hard to believe they’re only being felt inside one small body. This song is stadium loneliness. Foggy synth, paddy drums, Alicia Keys all breath, like whispering down a dead phone in the middle of the night. “Have you ever tried sleeping with a broken heart? Well, you could try sleeping in my bed.” It’s devastating. And then the whole thing soars, her voice clears, the synths tower up and the drums crack twice like thunder — this sublime moment, as huge and heart-stopping as joy. Sometimes you’re so stupid with sadness, you throw yourself at hopelessness thinking it’s the noblest act of faith. This song is that giddy instant, that pose of defiance: when, for an infinite second, your heart feels as big as the world.

22 Responses to “Alicia Keys – Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart”

  1. Should have given this a 10 for full Lex+Tom+me against the world effect.

    (‘paddy drums’, there, a term i… totally lifted from tom’s tumblr. oops.)

  2. Well, it may not trouble the SO-CALLED “top 10” but I suspect on the DaveMooreomerer this will do well.

  3. LOL, I think unflattering stills from videos should be a dominant theme for the Jukebox in 2010.

    Still don’t really hear any Prince at all in this song. Maybe the snare, but that’s about it.

  4. dude, she’s wearing an (unflattering) purple jumper and riding around town in a bike in the video! Also Prince is well known for his pit bull healing powers.

  5. fwiw, i juxtaposed repeated listening of the two alicia keys songs with full length plays of parade and around the world in a day. Comparing the two is like comparing an iceberg and a frozen margarita.

  6. Darn, too slow with my review I think but mine would have been a 9 or 10 too, the bombast on this is only married with the gentle heartache in the soft centre. Must be more organised.

  7. I had no idea until now that people compared her to Prince (and I’ve never liked Parade or Around The World In A Day or most of what he’s done since very much anyway tbh), but I just want to go on record as saying I’m pretty sure I agree with Alfred. (Listened to both of these songs, and couldn’t think of a thing to say. She’s a blank to me, and she’ll always be a blank. She’s had a couple songs I thought were okay, I guess, but have never gotten why anybody cares about her.)

  8. Tom will be disappointed to learn that it’s not even as controversial as Corrine! Though still qualifies.

  9. For some reason this song strikes me as what I wanted Jordin Sparks’s “Battlefield” to be. Though I’d still probably only give it a 7-8. But I can only handle Keys in individual doses and I put my attention elsewhere this week.

  10. Re: Who Alicia Keys Is As An Artist.

    I think I realised this when Kelly Holmes was interviewed after winning her Olympic golds, and she said before the races she’d wake up before anyone else and wander around the tracks listening to Alicia’s “If I Ain’t Got You”, and she’d imagine that the “you” was the gold medal. I actually find it rather beautiful that this song can be so easily used for such a different purpose than what it’s ostensibly about, and when Alicia hits the spot for me, it’s for similar reasons; her songs seem less confession to me, more generosity: less about her and more about us; here, take these songs and use them as you need to.

    This is partly due to her limitations as a songwriter, actually; she paints in such broad brushstrokes, and sometimes this is vague and hollow (I’ve never enjoyed a full Keys album), but at her best she’s all-encompassing and universal in a way that few other, more personal, artists can match.

    This also fits in w/Alicia’s increasingly obvious (and incredibly AWESOME) Messiah complex btw.

  11. haha that comes full circle with the Olympics jibe in my blurb.

    btw the first thing I read about this song when it leaked was the Maura-era Idolator post where she called it wannabe Prince, which was of course well before the purple-crazy video cameo ut.

  12. The more I listen to this, the more I wish that someone slightly more sympathetic and subtle than Alicia Keys had sung it because my god, I cannot muster even the slightest amount of empathy for her. The la la la at the end is lovely.

  13. Someone like Jordin Sparks! Whom I actually quite like as a singer and think has been stuck with terrible material overall.

  14. Actually I don’t think “sympathetic” or “subtle” would be words I’d use to describe Jordin. I just imagine it would be a good song for her for some reason.

  15. Jordin Sparks would do a GREAT job on this.

  16. Jordin Sparks is so much more “smugly unsympathetic” than Alicia Keys, who usually does a great job of elevating mediocre songwriting (see: “Fallin'”, “A Woman’s Worth”). The only time I’ve really given a damn about Sparks was on “No Air”, and her relentless bellowing on “Battlefield” and “SOS” hasn’t demonstrated that she can do much else.

  17. “A Woman’s Worth” is an awful song. I don’t think Keys is being smug here, that part of her arsenal is well and truly reined in, but when she’s not FEELING IT MAN she’s got no presence at all.

  18. That was sort of my point. And when she is feeling it, which she does on at least a good 3-4 songs per album inc. here, she’s terrific.

  19. Compositionally this has to be the best song she’s written by a long shot. And the chorus on here, I think, might be the best ‘performance’ she’s ever done. The verses, though, she’s just lost in the (lovely) haze.

  20. Lex, try “I Who Have Nothing” from Jordin, which made my jaw drop (though I don’t know if she could have sustained it if she’d had to go for more than two minutes, since she starts full-bore emotional and then gets more emotional).

  21. can you guys finish your 2009 end of year thing? i really need to know whether “fifteen” or “trap goin’ ham” is a better song!

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