Music columnist Jackson Farley on Alicia Keys' 'Girl On Fire'
It's been three years since R&B artist Alicia Keys has released any new music, but the wait is finally over. Since her last album, The Element of Freedom, released in 2009, Keys has gotten married, had a child and even directed a short documentary project. And on her latest album, Girl On Fire, all of those special events that have happened in her life are shown through the heart and soul she pours into it.
Girl On Fire is full of inspiration, vulnerability and optimism. It's clear this album is the product of some deep soul-searching, and in an interview with MTV, Keys explained the album's roots.
"Being a new mom, a new wife (and) being a woman who's really trying to find herself, take control of my life, my business, my world, I think that there comes a certain point in life where you realize that you know you can really choose the life that you want, and so it's really about that journey and kind of finding that bravery ... You don't need anybody to validate you. You are powerful and incredible, and that's the journey that I've been on and the journey I think we're all on."
Keys' lyrics have always been full of passion and hope, but even more so on Girl On Fire. "Brand New Me" tells of Keys' new attitude towards life, identity and making changes for the better. This piano ballad is the perfect showcase of Keys' soulful, breathtaking voice.
"Girl On Fire," the album's very first single, is by far the catchiest song and will definitely see the most radio time. Nicki Minaj raps two verses on this track, and her performance is nothing to complain about. Minaj's verses somehow complement the song well, and as a whole, it works.
The album is also a beautiful sampling of Keys' R&B side, and it's nice to see a little less pop and a little more soul. "Tears Always Win" is a jazzy ballad with the perfect amount of sass to make you snap your fingers and feel really empowered. "Not Even the King," another powerful ballad co-written with British singer Emeli Sandé, is all about that priceless thing we call love and is another soulful hit that shouldn't be skipped over.
Despite the album's highs, it does hit some lows. "When It's All Over," "Listen to Your Heart," "New Day," and "Limitedless" are all just OK tracks. They lack in the wow factor and unfortunately, are mediocre fillers between the album's strong tracks. It's no doubt that Keys' voice is unique, smooth and powerful, but after a while, all of the so-so R&B ballads start to sound the same.
Keys did branch out quite a bit as far as writing and producing goes on Girl On Fire. Keys co-wrote songs with names like Bruno Mars, Emeli Sandé, Frank Ocean, John Legend, Gary Clark Jr. Swizz Beatz, Dr. Dre and Jamie xx are just a few of the names that helped produce Girl On Fire as well, making the record interesting and showing Keys' adaptation to different styles.
Girl On Fire is inspirational, uplifting and full of soul. There are some tracks that are definitely on fire, but unfortunately, some tracks have been dampened down to a smolder. Girl On Fire might not be a home run, but it definitely hits home. After creating a family and reflecting on everything that was happening around her, Alicia Keys took her passion and poured it right into her new album, creating a raw masterpiece that shows Keys' journey.