Singer Alicia Keys is back! The piano maestro returns to the music scene with the release of her fifth studio album, Girl on Fire. This is Keys’ first album since marrying super-producer Swizz Beatz (July 2010) and giving birth to her first child, Egypt (October 2010). Serving as the follow-up to her 2009 album offering, The Element of Freedom, and one thing that is sure is that Keys is fiery this go ‘round and the album rings a suggestive “new” her.
I suppose after getting married, and having your first child one would feel anew and have to take the appropriate time to adjust to the new happenings in their life. Alicia seems she has adjusted well and wasted no time in doing so. All together the album delivers a total of thirteen tracks. Beginning with an instrumental Intro titled “De Novo Adagio”, Latin for “anew”, “afresh,” and this is more validity that singer Keys has shredded some oldness to her. The piano driven Intro will sure to play with the hairs on your ears as Keys’ piano playing is teased, but magnificently so. Blending into the second track of the album, and coincidentally the second single from the album, “Brand New Me” starts with Ms. Alicia Keys sounding exactly what the title declares. Co-written by Scottish singer Emeli Sande, Keys croons “It’s been a while, I’m not who I was before/You look surprised, your words don’t burn me anymore.” If this is not enough to make you believe that something is anew with the singer well then you are out of luck. “Brand New Me” grows larger each verse with piano as the main backing. The song closes on a high self-empowering thought provoking note, a feeling that Keys is known for giving.
The album then kicks up a notch with “When It’s All Over” a jazz, and funk sounding track, in which singer John Legend lent his writing duties on the track, along with a newcomer singer Stacy Barthe. This track glides with a brisk feeling that we have never heard on a studio album from Alicia before but makes the listener feel they have because Keys sounds comfortable and breezy on the entire 3:46 of the track.
Taking a similar sound into track four, the album soothes with “Listen to Your Heart” another track that singer and obvious friend of Alicia, Mr. John Legend lent his writing talents to. “Listen to Your Heart” consists of a lot of repetition of Keys sweetly oozing “You gotta listen to your heart/Listen to your heart, oh/Why don’t you listen to your heart.”
Track five, “New Day”, shakes the album a little and gives you a glimpse of what Alicia Keys music catalog could sound like if she gave her best shot at Beyonce’s music. “New Day” is no stranger to fans of Keys as she released this as a promo single over Summer 2012. Produced by Dr. Dre and hubby Swizz Beatz “New Day” definitely shines as something “new” as Alicia’s voice blares over heavy drums, another attribute that listeners are not used to hearing from the singer on a studio album.
As if the loud production was not enough to get you rallied about Alicia’s new emancipation and free feeling vibe, the album dives into title track and lead single “Girl on Fire” with the Inferno version featuring rapper Nicki Minaj lending her influential lines about girl power, “Because I win the gold like Gabby” (a reference to 16-year old U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas).
Seven seems to be a number of sensuality for Alicia because track seven, comes in as “Fire We Make” the sensual duet with Neo-soul veteran Maxwell. On Keys’ previous album, The Element of Freedom her “Un-thinkable (I’m Ready)” collaboration with rapper Drake debuted as track seven as well. Looking past the similarity, Keys and Maxwell bring alive a fantasy of what it would sound like if one was a fly on the wall during a fiery session between the two.
The album hits a bump in the road as track eight shifts gears a little with the flat, and boring sounding “Not Even the King,” the second track that Scottish singer Emeli Sandi co-wrote. The track presents a raw and original recording feel but falls flat and feels out of place in the selecting of the album’s track order.
Picking things back up with Motown inspired “Tears Always Win” Alicia joins forces with singer Bruno Mars as the pair wrote the song. Keys remind listeners of her funk and soul capabilities on “Tears.” Following, she slows things back down with the Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds produced track “That’s When I Knew” which yearns her love for that special someone (Swizz Beatz, her husband, likely, of course).
The remainder of the album searches for direction and I am not sure if it ever finds that. “Limitedless” is a reggae, two-stepper track that finds Alicia singing in a zigzag sort of way, about there being no limit to loving her lover. If the made up word for the title shows any validity that the album does not find its focus in the remaining of its last fifteen minutes then maybe one should think harder.
“One Thing” co-written by R&B newcomer Frank Ocean is heavy on guitar and sounds nostalgic just like Ocean’s own music. Set to be a tear jerker, “One Thing” tells a compelling story that leaves the listener obliged to reflect on their own love life.
The final curtain call track, “101” the third track to be co-written by Emeli Sandi ushers in a pleading Alicia like we have never heard before. She sings in a wired, raspy voice that is filled with melancholy over piano about a lover’s one-hundred and one mistake, lie, and everything else he/she could do wrong. Sure to be the perfect final song, “101” is another one (no pun intended) that will leave the listener feeling emotionally heavy and thinking on their own romantic life.
After the track’s end there is a surprise hidden outro that blares Alicia’s voice as loud, and declarative of the new chapter in her life (I will not say too much on this surprise outro as it serves as a hidden track, and may surprise some at the force that Alicia brings).
Closing out to be a little underneath one full hour Girl on Fire is sure to reflect simply that. Critiqued to be the singer’s best album in a while the songstress’ fifth effort is one that surely burns and will leave its remnants for years to come, even after Keys is long gone, all in a positive way for the most part.
Pulling out major promo stops for the November 27, 2012 Girl on Fire album release check out this video of Alicia Keys performing second single, “Brand New Me” at the UK’s BBC’s Radio 1Xtra Event…
Editor of Reviews, Wil Rivers