“It’s been a while. I’m not who I was before.” sings Keys as the intro lyrics to her new album, Girl on Fire. And both of these statements are very much true. Almost three years since her lowest-selling album, The Element of Freedom, hit the shelves, Alicia Keys claims she has a lot to show since her last album release. She has risen anew from the flames.
But if it’s not broken, why fix it? That’s what I asked myself throughout listening to this new album. There’s no denying that Keys is a powerhouse vocalist perfectly able to channel her soul into her words. But maybe Keys has grown tired of that and wants to explore her other options, which perfectly explains this album.
“Brand New Me” is really the song that captures the successful side of this experimentation in sound. The song begins with a smooth and smoky melody before a nice drum beat backs up her more intense vocalizations. This song makes me excited for this “Brand New” Alicia, but this isn’t the new Alicia that graces the rest of the album.
This other “new” Alicia Keys comes forward in the songs “Girl on Fire” – Inferno Version”, “New Day”, and “Fire We Make”. The collaboration with Nicki Minaj in “Girl on Fire” is a strange one. I could understand if the song either formed to fit Minaj’s usual style or if Minaj sang more in the style of Alicia Keys, but both singers retain their own unique style in way that resembles more of a mash-up than a collaboration.
“New Day” and “Fire We Make” both stand out in the album for different reasons. “New Day” is easily the catchiest tune, and I don’t give it long before it’s being incessantly played on the radio; however, the song sounds much more like a Rihanna tune than one that Keys would typically sing. It is also very reminiscent of an earlier track on the album, “When It’s All Over”. “Fire We Make” is Keys attempt at being sexy and seductive. Something that she shouldn’t try to force. Her usual sultry vocals come out more sweet than sensual in this tune reminiscent of an attempt at pillow-talk.
But despite this strange, new Alicia that is featured on the first half of the album, an Alicia that I haven’t decided if I quite like yet, the old piano playing, soul-baring Alicia comes back for the final half. “Tears Always Win”, “Not Even the King”, and “101” bring us back to the Alicia that we know and love. It’s in these intimate, slow moments where it’s just Keys and the piano, that I remember why I like this artist so much. Her talent transcends this pop-soul mold she’s tried to fit herself into at the beginning of this album leading to a wonderfully beautiful conclusion.
I definitely recommend Girl on Fire. You’ll be hearing it on the radio soon anyway.