Album Review: Alicia Keys, Girl On Fire

Alicia Keys

Girl On Fire (to be released November 27, 2012)

Want to know what I think about Alicia Keys’ album? Just look at the sequence.

Alicia Keys is among a small group of artists (including LL Cool J and Ja Rule) that share a peculiar quirk: I like every other album they release. I call it the sequence curse. Alicia’s 2001 debut was critically acclaimed but I wasn’t impressed. However, her sophomore set, The Diary of Alicia Keys, is one of my favorite albums of the past decade. Similarly, I wasn’t in love with 2007’s As I Am but I loved The Element of Freedom in ’09.

So according to my calculations, I shouldn’t be very fond of Girl On Fire, Alicia’s first album as a wife and mother. But just a few seconds into the intro, “De Novo Adagio,” destiny gets slapped in the face. It’s a beautiful opening that showcases Alicia’s calling card – her impressive pianist skills. The intro gently eases into “Brand New Me,” an affirmation of strength that climaxes in an explosion of percussion. It really accentuates the growth portrayed in the song.

“Brand New Me” works much better as an anthem than the heavy-handed singles “New Day” and the title track. “New Day” really takes Alicia out of her comfort zone with annoying chants and runs that really stretch her vocals thin. “Girl On Fire” isn’t much better with its corny lyrics and the walking watercolor disaster Nicki Minaj sprinkling her trademark wackness all over the place.

Thankfully the album quickly recovers with “Fire We Make,” a slow-burner with Maxwell that’s a match made in heaven – with more fire. Uh, scratch that. Fire is kind of the opposite of heaven. Anyway, Maxwell and Alicia sizzle so seamlessly that I’m shocked that it took them this long to collaborate. Babies WILL be made to this song.

The remaining tracks like “101” and “Tears Always Win” find Alicia in her element – backed by her precious piano. “That’s When I Knew” is similarly naked: its’ just Alicia, acoustic licks and not much else. But these tracks, along with “Limitedless” all suffer from the same dilemma – nice, pleasant songs that will immediately be forgotten once your iPod jumps to the next track.

With the exception of “Fire We Make,” that statement holds true for the entire album. It sort of reminds me of attending a jazz session. You’ll find yourself enjoying it in the moment but if someone asks you to name highlights, not much comes to mind.

In a year filled with great R&B releases (Frank Ocean, Usher, SWV, Miguel, Keyshia Cole), Alicia’s Girl On Fire falls in the middle of the road and is nowhere near as good as her last album.

But I could have predicted that. The sequence curse strikes again.

Best tracks: “Fire We Make,” “Brand New Me,” “That’s When I Knew”

3.5 out of 5


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