Alicia Keys, MTV Crashes Manchester, Manchester Cathedral
Much has gone on in Alicia Keys’ life since her last album. Motherhood and her union to rapper now her producer Swizz Beatz in a Zulu-blessed ceremony in South Africa have already persuaded critics that the keenly anticipated forthcoming release Girl on Fire will provide a fresh departure for her considerable talents.
She has certainly got a new haircut. Gone are the shoulder length tresses and in is an austere bob that suggests a tougher more business-like approach to things. Not of course that she has been lacking in the commercial department over the past decade in which time she has become one of the world’s most bankable singing and - to a lesser extent - acting stars with album sales nudging 30m and 14 Grammies decorating her Manhattan mantelpiece.
Manchester Cathedral was the surprising choice of venue to showcase new tracks as well as some old favourites ahead of the November release date. The collaboration between MTV and Manchester City Council was being beamed to giant screen in the cathedral precincts but the weather meant it was a near- total washout. Inside however, the atmosphere was far more welcoming.
Angels clutching gilded instruments peer down from the nave roof of St Mary’s, built in the perpendicular Gothic style. And Keys seemed very much to like her surroundings- even if she was not so keen on the Manchester weather. Her well-drilled professional performing arts school background might easily have earned her a place at neighbouring Chetham’s School of Music, whose pupils are regular performers within this space.
An accomplished pianist with a soaring contralto that was bouncing off the stonework, Keys evinces a slick musicality and a highly competent vision of post millennial R n B, tinged with blues, gospel and cool jazz. Her work –You Don’t Know My Name, Unthinkable, Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart - resonate with a ballsy defiance. Her lyrics are peppered with epigrams of romantic and personal empowerment and the determination to overcome emotional vulnerability.
It is easy to dismiss many of these sentiments as shallow or banal but her finest song Empire State of Mind really inspires. The 2009 collaboration with Jay-Z, of which she is a co-writer, is a modern classic – despite some clonking scans and it was enjoyably executed in this setting. The new work – New Day, Not Even the King – blended easily with the old and even if the crowd started to lose interest a little after her big hit, this was an interesting opportunity to catch a true mega star up close.
Review: Of Mice and Men
By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work
Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar
What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?
Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings
The actor has confessed to his own insecurities
Allotments are the focus of a new reality show
Arts & Ents blogs
The best movies on Netflix: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Game of Thrones season 4 episode 2 breaks torrent record as fans watch online
The original Breaking Bad ending saw every character die
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'
Paul Walker's brothers stand in for actor’s final scenes for Fast & Furious 7 movie
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
Nigel Farage on Have I Got News For You: Ukip leader ridiculed over expenses and party 'fruitcakes'
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
- 1 Poveglia: 'World's most haunted island' up for sale...is anyone brave enough to buy it?
- 2 Big Bang Theory to get special Star Wars episode with help from Lucasfilm
- 3 Babies cry at night to stop mothers procreating, scientists claim
- 4 Pharrell Williams 'Happy': British Muslims dance to song in video
- 5 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews