Alicia Keys - Girl on Fire
Girl on Fire opens exactly as you’d hope: a delicately inebriating piano introduction in the form of ‘De Novo Adagion’. ‘Brand New Me’ continues the tinkling ivories that Alicia Keys is famed for, and she’s right - ‘It’s been a while / I’m not who I was before’. Miss Keys has grown up considerably in the space between this and 2009's The Element of Freedom.
Compared to previous outputs, Girl On Fire is adventurous, with less focus on staying chart friendly (although not a dubstep drop in sight, thankfully) and more concentration of luscious textures and arrangements. Like most things in life, Alicia Keys previously creamy vocals are maturing and getting better with age. Far from being unrecognisable, she is instead venturing further into the unknown, an evolution which suits her sound.
Keys has the kind of vocal that makes you stop in your tracks and simply listen. No multi-task listening with this one. The gloriously building choruses are invigorating, building notions of grandeur, only to drop back to that delicate serenade only few can manage - slow but never boring. The Jamie XX produced ‘When It’s All Over’ changes the mood with a reverberating, erratic bassline setting an uneasy tone. Starting off almost seductively, it seems a strange move that Keys’ child features at the end of the track. Until you realise that rather than swooning over a bloke, she is instead fawning over her son. It's a little odd.
The token Nicki Minaj intro (is there anything that she doesn’t feature on?) on the title track at first seems an unnecessary addition. Minaj is fun at times but it’s simply not needed on this ‘Empire State of Mind’-esque track. The simple clap beat keeps time whilst all attention is deservedly on Keys. Then, curve ball. The second Minaj verse is good enough to forgive the first. Sultry, baritone and sincere, it’s the perfect tonic to the soaring chorus.
‘Fire We Make’ and the jazz-tinged ‘Tears Always Win’ set the groove, launching the second half of the album into the ballads that AK always manages to nail. The secret track at the end of ‘101’, a live jam with her strained vocals crying "Hallelujah" is the perfect advert for next year's arena tour. Going by Girl on Fire, it’s going to be a storming one.