Her smooth, soulful voice and smoldering stare has been unmistakable since her very successful debut album “Songs in A Minor” in 2001. Now out with her new album “Girl On Fire,” Alicia Keys is reborn, from simmering embers and ashes.
In her first album since her marriage and the birth of her son Egypt, Keys really does seem like a whole new woman. Her signature R&B sound is still apparent in her new music; her soul music influences and jazzy chords are still distinct. But she has come a long way from her piano ballad days. Of course, this is not to say she steered away completely from her musical roots. A lot of her tracks incorporate new reggae and electronic influences, instrumentation and musical style.
However, the album is not perfect. There are some tracks that simply aren’t as memorable, just because they’re what is expected of Keys: a typical soulful R&B tune featuring Keys on the piano and on vocals.
Several tracks do catch one by surprise. After her successful collaboration with Jay-Z on “Empire State of Mind,” the artists she works with on this on the album, like Frank Ocean and Nicki Minaj, are a pleasant surprise; one would not expect these artists from different musical genres to complement Keys’ style of music. Keys also co-wrote much of her music with Scottish singer and songwriter Emeli SandÃ©, an artist she had met while on tour.
The album’s first track, “De Novo Adagio,” serves as a classical introduction. A seemingly typical Keys piano ballad is actually very rich and full-bodied. Its minor key changes add an intensity that foreshadows Keys’ ardent spirit.
Written with the help of Emeli SandÃ©, the second track, “Brand New Me,” incorporates a modern twist on traditional soul with an electronic beat. The track catches one off guard, showing the artist is stepping out of her musical comfort zone.
Several of Keys’ tracks were written and recorded in Jamaica, and helped inspire her creative process. Keys’ new influences are clearly seen in “Limitedless,” a track with a catchy drumbeat and Jamaican ska and reggae undertones. The reggaeton-inspired drumbeat makes one want to dance and jam.
The track “Girl on Fire,” which was the first single released and titles the album, is a powerful and upbeat track in which Keys clearly expresses her triumphs and successes. Featuring Nicki Minaj, an unexpected collaborator, the song is catchy and simple to sing along to. The empowering lyrics and basic melody make it a memorable tune that lingers in the back of your head. As her lyrics suggest, Keys really is “a flame / … You can try but you’ll never forget her name.”
Keys’ newest album doesn’t involve too many complicated instrumentals or abstract lyrics. For the most part, her music is very simple and straightforward, but still manages to stir up quite a bit of emotion. One can hear and feel the passion and intimacy she is trying to convey to her listeners.
For example, Keys collaborated with artist Maxwell to produce a very sensual duet, “Fire We Make.” The lyrics are simple, if not blunt: “With the fire we make / It’s getting hotter and hotter / Like a moth to flame / I can’t stay away.” The song’s melody is very smooth, adding to the sultry mood the track creates.
Keys’ son, Egypt, also makes his debut on the album. Keys incorporates a small snippet of conversation between her and her son in “New Day,” adding an even more intimate and personal aspect into her album. The song’s lyrics are very laid-back and carefree, “It’s alright to feel however you want to / There’s no limitation / Fill up your life / … We celebrate mine.”
The album closes with “101,” a very effortless and uncomplicated soul ballad that features only Keys on the piano and vocals. This melody definitely highlights Keys’ soulful and velvety chops, as she hits notes that give goose bumps. The plain arrangement of the song relays a spirited frenzy and brings the album to a full circle.
“Girl on Fire” expresses Keys’ musicality not only through her voice, but also in her ability to adapt and evolve. This album is definitely a more mature and intense side of Keys without deviating too far from the original R&B singer early fans kept falling in and out of love with since 2001.
““ Alicja Bronowicki
Email Bronowicki at [email protected].