Returning to the frontline and ready to offer up some of her signature sound, Alicia Keys puts out her RCA Records debut Girl On Fire. Her fifth studio album overall, it’s the first time she’s released any new material since 2009’s Element of Freedom. With her marriage to producer Swizz Beatz
and the birth of their first son, Egypt, part reason for the delay,
there’s also been a shift in record labels, some sneaker designing, and a
bit of charity work thrown in to the mix for good measure. Refocusing
her energies on the music, her most recent ongoing promotional campaign
has seen her very much stroll back in to the limelight, and to a good
With that said, the proof is always in the pudding and they say
you’re only as good as your latest result. In this case, with some
individually beautiful records featured, as an entire project Girl On Fire
lacks that little bit of cohesiveness you’re used to hearing from the
New York songstress. However, in comparison to many of today’s
R&B/soul/pop efforts it would take the win based solely upon the way
in which she carries herself vocally, as well as her ability to
experiment with classically non-generic sounds that others daren’t.
With a whole host of individuals contributing to the album in some way, shape, or form, the likes of Bruno Mars, Babyface
and Jamie xx
are just a few featured names . A name that finds itself on to the credits list more than once is the UK’s very own Emeli Sande.
With writing duties on three of the 13 tracks, the best of the bunch
comes when Keys closes the album out with “101.” Soft, sensitive, and
sweetly alluring, the way in which Keys plays with vocal levels is
simplistic yet ultimately effective. More like a lyrical storyboard than
a song, the passionate trip you’re taken on as the listener is all
thanks to Sande’s framework.
While Keys had a hand in writing every song on Girl On Fire,
the album’s better tracks appear to be ones where she’s teamed up with another writing talent. Case in point, the Frank Ocean
assisted “One Thing.” Anyone who had the pleasure of hearing Ocean’s Channel Orange
album earlier this year will instantly notice the similarities between
this song and a number of songs featured on Ocean’s debut. Easy on the
ear and beautifully written, the Malay
and Keys produced gem is audio relaxation in its purest form.
Choosing not to include the original version of the album’s title track is slightly baffling. Stiff from start to finish, the Nicki Minaj
assisted “Inferno Version” of “Girl On Fire” lacks potency. With
nothing but a drum to support the two of them, Minaj’s lyrics sound
forced while Keys’ vocals can’t carry the entire track. The original
version, with its additional instrumental layers, echoes fulfillment
with a dose of passion.
Another questionable decision then comes when the Dr. Dre produced “New Day” sees 50 Cent’s
verse cut from the final version. Whether or not it has anything to do
with the track being sold to Keys before 50 could use it, New York radio
stations are only playing the version featuring 50 Cent. The track
itself injects some life in to this otherwise mellow project.
Offering fans of unfiltered soul the opportunity to hear some quality material, “Fire We Make
is by far the album’s most splendid moment. At a steady pace, Keys goes
toe to toe with one of the genre’s most respected artists – Maxwell
. Quoting and adjusting Janet Jackson
’s famous opening line from “That’s The Way Love Goes” – “Like a moth to a flame,”
Keys vocally lowers her pitch while Maxwell gets his falsetto on
resulting in both aiding the creation of a soulfully attractive gem.
Girl On Fire works as a platform to reintroduce one of the
genre’s finest exports to the masses. The mix of peaceful practices with
a few questionable decisions results in this not being Alicia Keys’
worst album by a long shot, but it’s not her best either. It’s a great
place to start for those with little knowledge on the Hell’s Kitchen
singer, and with room for improvement there’s bound to be a flood of
exceptional material still to come.