Alicia Keys remains a diamond in the rough on today’s contemporary music landscape. As a self-made female rockstar in the age of “Idols” and pop dream machines, Keys relies on passion for her craft and divine talent for her visions to come to life. These elements, strong with original Songs in A Minor and new Girl on Fire, stand alone with very little flash or hype — a feat virtually unknown by today’s standards.
Naturally beautiful and vocally flawless with Girl on Fire, Keys proves to lengthen her reign as the young goddess of R&B here in 2012 as she claimed way back in 2001. And for a smoothed-out, expertly imagined concept to be thought out and executed in this generation, there’s really nothing more we can ask for.
Even with multiple Grammy awards to her name, a happy marriage and a young child in her life, Keys is grounded in the simple gorgeous glory of her piano and voice from Girl on Fire’s first measures. “De Novo Adagio,” meaning “again gently” in Italian, introduces our ears to the softened, subtle strength in the singer’s fifth studio album with a piano interlude before getting into the lyrical bounty of the record. This intro flows seamlessly into starter “Brand New Me,” starting off with vigor and solemn intensity with the words “I’ve found a brand new kind of free.” From here, things get a bit more gritty and earthy, but the lyrical magnitude and soulful energy will stay positively consistent.
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Alicia Keys is in love and simply wants you to be as happy as she feels. The singer takes empowerment past superficial statements we’re accustomed to hearing, choosing instead to tell her story and let listeners learn from her mistakes and triumphs. “Listen to Your Heart” tells a testament of Alicia Keys’s past before “When It’s All Over” endears with a story of family, including an appearance by son Egypt at the end. The album’s two most lyrically testimonial moments happen in “Tears Always Win” about unbearable loneliness, and next in “Not Even The King,” donning metaphors left and right that can’t be beat. This song resonates as the “If I Ain’t Got You” of today, all sorts of dedicated and lovely.
Girl on Fire’s major pitfall happens only on the title track, when she hands the mic over to Nicki Minaj, destroyer of all things sacred and prosperous. Just as we expected, the rapper’s thuggish attitude, animal print high-tops and “don’t cross me” demeanor makes no match for Alicia Keys’ soft vocal streams and steady-footed inspiration. Keys’ friends behind the scenes remain colorful, among them Bruno Mars, Frank Ocean and husband Swizz Beatz. Maxwell’s sexy duet with Keys remains an easy highlight, though no song is worth skipping. At least these producers left Alicia to the singing for the most part.
The musician leaves her greatest misfortunes and frustrations for the CD’s end, as if arbitrary or worthy or neglect since the songs bear emotional heaviness. Buried in “101” is its monumentally heartbreaking outro that says farewell, but reminds listeners of the silver lining in every circumstance. Where some people would be without Alicia Keys, but the singer’s constant reminder of goodness in the world and pure, recognizable talent in the musical community is what we keep coming back for time and time again.