You either like it or you don't.
Those who don't like it fret over why Alicia Keys grunts in her songs.
Those who aren't bothered by it just take it as one of her many trademarks.
It's there from the minute the music kicks off on her new album HERE.
So we all God's children, products of the ghetto
Mana cooked us soup, daddy did the yelling\'
Uncle was a drunk, cousin was a felon
When he got pitched, he told them he wasn't tellin'
Auntie was a cook, her husband was a crook
Cause every job he had they be payin' him off the books
Ghetto university, knowledge is all it took
In a tenement I was listenin' to the hook
Change gon' come, the spirit of Sam Cook
And when the feds comin', everybody be shook
Now we doin' life like Eddie Murphy and Martin
On the chain gang, I was singing into the coffin
Alicia teamed with five other songwriters for that song, the opener "The Gospel."
Actually, the opener is "The Battle," one of five spoken interludes mixed throughout the album.
I like "The Battle."
But I'm not sure that they make for a smart inclusion.
What they may remind many of is the spoken interludes on THE MISEDUCATION OF LAURYN HILL.
That remains one of the 90s greatest albums.
She remains one of music's saddest tales.
Lauryn is the real deal, a musical artist of immense talent.
But outside of a 2002 live album from an MTV appearance, she's never been able to follow up THE MISEDUCATION.
A bit of it is personal issues -- what living artist doesn't have personal issues -- and some of it seems to be the same thing that sent Laura Nyro off into retirement.
It's to Alicia Keys' credit that her album can remind of Lauryn's best work without being washed away by that comparison.
Alicia's had her hits and then some.
Among them: "Fallin'," "No One," "Unbreakable," "A Woman's Worth," "Girl On Fire," "Like You'll Never See Me Again" and, especially, 'Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart."
Especially the last one because it's part of the proof that, even eight years after her first hit ("Fallin'"), Alicia Keys remained able to surprise.
She's surprising on this album as well.
"In Common" was a great song that dropped last May.
It's not on the official version of the album (you can get it on the deluxe version).
How good does an album have to be to get away with leaving "In Common" off?
That's the right question to ask because Alicia Keys has released the album we should have been talking about all year.
HERE is not a sound alike of the finest work by Lauryn Hill or Stevie Wonder.
But it does travel the same road.
All along I've ignored what I've always known
That the chair I've been sitting on is a throne
Affection kneels at the seat of my soul
Tell the truth it can't get no better
Swear to life it can't get no better, oh no
By the way, I've been meaning to thank ya
By the way, I've been meaning to thank ya all along
That's "She Don't Really Care/1 Luv" and if it's too deep for you, wait for the interlude "Elevations" that follows and you should grasp the meaning.
But you should grasp it throughout.
"Illusion Of Bliss" and "Where Do We Begin" are amazing songs.
There's not one song on here that doesn't touch something larger than you, me or Alicia.
She's gone so deep, it may be unsettling for some listeners.
To be honest, I wasn't expecting this.
I wasn't expecting nonsense either.
What I was expecting was some strong musicianship from the woman who breathes the piano the way Nyro did. An album I could enjoy and listen to repeatedly is what I thought HERE would be.
It's so much more than that.
Alicia's stripped away the make up and gloss in real life.
Some can't even handle that, so I wonder how this album will go over.
But this album is exactly the same sort of reflection -- an attempt to get to the core of who we are.
"Blended Family" -- the first single -- gets to that in a way that seems both inspirational and so-obvious you wonder why the melody hasn't already been sung a million times.
I don't know how Alicia got to this point or how long she can maintain it, but right now she's the most important artist of 2016 and likely of 2017 as well.
For all the winners on the album, and it's -- track after track --nothing but winners, my favorite remains "Pawn It All."
I would pawn you my watch
I would pawn you my chain
I would pawn you this gold and diamond ring
'Cause I need it so bad
I would give you everything
Just so I could start my life over again
Sometimes you gotta let it go
Just to make it possible
Sometimes you gotta do it
Be willing to lose it
Freedom has no price, you know
Thinking how we gonna make it now
How we gonna feed the babies now
We gonna make it through it
God gonna see to it
Just get up and do it now
Alicia Keys' sixth studio album stands as her most impressive yet.
How many artists can say that?