Alicia Keys – Fallin’

First Hit #1: August 18, 2001

Fallin’ is the kind of thing that can feel refreshing if you hear it at the right time. A polished piano ballad with a big hook isn’t anything new, but it builds smartly and quickly, with clean vocals and direct lyrics. If you’re in the middle of a heavy electronic moment, something as clean Fallin’ can really stick out. It takes a lot of confidence to start a capella, but it’s also the kind of thing that grabs attention immediately, because it’s just a fresh way to begin a song. It moves on from there, steadily building elements into the song and even throwing in a couple nods to Keys’ hip hop influences. I keep resisting the urge to call it simple, because it really isn’t – it starts simple, but it moves rapidly in the other direction. It’s clean, that’s different. There’s no element that feels superfluous, it’s polished, there’s not a stray bit of dirt or grime in the performance. The chorus sometimes feels a bit disconnected from itself – words don’t really flow together, instead leaping up and down the scale in between the letters – but that’s also what gives it the hook and makes it catchy, and might also be a symptom of the cleanliness of the song – unnecessary transitions have been binned.

It’s a song that slowly reveals its odder elements, but as a whole it’s refreshing. The musical equivalent of a fancy salad.

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One Response to Alicia Keys – Fallin’

  1. RBerman says:

    One hallmark of country and rock music (as opposed to pop and R&B) is for singers to also be instrumentalists, with guitar historically favored due to cost, portability, and ease of use. R&B pianists are relatively rarer, though the exceptions (Fats Domino, Little Richard, Ray Charles) are the ones we remember decades later. Keys is not only an R&B pianist, but one with the training and willingness to bring a classical style to her work. She had the audacity to include a music theory term in her album title (Songs in A minor) to further highlight this difference. But my favorite of her albums to date is the New Wavey “The Elements of Freedom.”

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