Album Review: Alicia Keys – ‘Girl On Fire’


    Alicia Keys Girl on Fire TheLavaLizard
    Alicia Keys’ ‘Girl on Fire’ album cover.

    Alicia Keys pushed herself to limit as she spread the word about her new album, ‘Girl on Fire’, but there has been little interest in the project beyond her dedicated fanbase. Yet, if casual listeners simply overlook her recent string of underwhelming performances, they would be pleasantly surprised to discover that the record is an impressive effort.

    Boasting a track list of only 13 songs, ‘Girl on Fire’ follows Keys’ previous collection of elevator music, ‘The Element of Freedom’. Unlike its predecessor, however, this album is a lively mix of material by a diva who understands her core audience and is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that she continues to mature along with her fans.

    Unlike what the ‘Girl on Fire’ title track and the lead promotional  single, ‘New Day’, depict, this album is far from the drum-backed yelling session that many people, including yours truly, expected. Instead, the record is a delight for supports of real music.

    ‘Girl on Fire’ kicks off with the beautifully composed ‘De Novo Adagio’ introduction, which shows how Keys – born Alicia Cook – chose her stage name. Gliding across the keys of her piano, she proves that she is a master of the classical arts and takes us back to the era of a young Nina Simone. Indeed, without singing a single note, Keys delivers a truly powerful performance as she controls the ebb and flow of the song’s tempo.

    ‘De Novo Adagio’ moves seamlessly into the autobiographical ‘Brand New Me’ and sets the tone for the rest of ‘Girl on Fire’, which is cleverly sequenced throughout. However, don’t expect the album to sound like one long song that refuses to end. Rather, each tune represents a welcome change of pace that keeps the listener fully engaged.

    That is perfectly exemplified by ‘When it’s All Over’. Laced with drums, bass, a dark piano melody and even a contribution by Keys’ son, this tune is a definite frontrunner for a radio release. In fact, it encourages a welcome repeat play for people when its followup, ‘Listen to Your Heart’, begins. Honestly, although the latter song is an easy listening piece, it is far too long and should have been tailored as a 90-second interlude.

    “I imagine music video scenes of domestic violence, bad sex, and a cheating boyfriend, whose wife is waiting at home and her name rhymes with Rashonda…”

    Another standout song for single treatment is the passionate ‘Tears Always Win’“If these walls could sing about everything they witnessed, it would be a sad, sad song and it would probably sound something like this…” – Keys sings as I imagine music video scenes of domestic violence, bad sex, and a cheating boyfriend, whose wife is waiting at home and her name rhymes with Rashonda

    Still, ‘Girl on Fire’ isn’t a perfect album made of sugar, spice and everything nice. Keys loses her balance on multiple occasions, such as the forgettable ‘One Thing’ and what she obviously thought would be a touching testimony, ‘That’s When I Knew’. The second song tells the story of how she fell in love with her husband, Swizz Beatz, but it amounts to nothing more than a gross public display of affection.

    By now I know you’re asking yourself, “why isn’t Trent mentioning Keys’ singing on this album? Did he get bribed to avoid writing about it?” Unfortunately for Keys, I didn’t receive any such PayPal transaction and now it’s time for me to address the the obvious.

    Keys’ once sweet, rich voice has become a tattered and worn instrument that has completely lost its elasticity. It is a painful experience to hear her build to the climax of a song as phenomenal as ‘101’ and literally croak the word “hallelujah” as she calls on a higher power who clearly hasn’t blessed her vocal cords in many years.

    Langston Hughes once asked, “what happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” Many of us still don’t know the answers to those questions but all I can hope is that it doesn’t explode like Keys’ throat at the turn of a high note. Maybe that’s why she chose the title ‘Girl on Fire’ for her album.

    Rounding out ‘Girl on Fire’ are a pair of tracks at the opposite ends of a spectrum. The first is the brilliant ‘Not Even a King’, which is wonderfully performed by Keys, and the second is the horrendous attempt at Reggae, ‘Limitedless’. Don’t ask me to fully describe the latter because that explanation will involve several curse words regarding Keys’ terrible vocal performance and styling that is more of a mockery of the Reggae genre than anything else.

    So, is ‘Girl on Fire’ worth buying or will it only replace the lump of coal in your worst enemy’s Christmas stocking? Honestly, despite a few missteps, this album is a solid body of work that should satisfy even the pickiest of R&B fans. Keys is vocally handicapped but she compensates for her weakness with generally great music that connects to tastes of her longtime supporters. If that doesn’t convince you then at least you can buy it to boost yourself esteem as you out-sing her in the car on your way home from work.

    Standout tracks: ‘Fire We Make (Ft. Maxwell)’‘’De Novo Adagio’‘101’ and ‘Tears Always Win’

    Weakest track: ‘Limitedless’

    Possible singles: ‘Tears Always Win’ and ‘When it’s All Over

    The Lava Lizard Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

    What do you think of the review?

    • sawa

      i disagree i love limitdless, but i do agree that one thing is weak though, all in all, gr8 album, go get urs now

      • Mario

        IKR!Limitdless is my jam!

        • Andy

          my tooo. good sound for the album.

    • KC

      Your least favorites are my two favorites (One Thing & That’s When I Knew) lol, but good review.

    • pisces2g

      Love the review, love love most of your work, but me as a fan who has followed your work trent, im disappointed in the fact that yall have not invested in auto correct or some kind of program to fix errors before you post to the public, its annoying as hell to think im crazy when i go to a blog and read things multiple times to make sure im ok…no nothing is perfect but get closer to it my friend.. again love u and ur site , and yes im allowed to make errors im a FAN lol

      • Ms. Boss

        I spotted ONE typo in this ENTIRE thing. There you stand go again. Always trying to diss this dude instead of appreciating the effort. If you were real a FAN then you won’t CONSTANTLY diss him. This isn’t the first post where did shit like this.

        • Pisces2g

          I’m not a Alicia Keys fan so pipe down, I’m a fan of trents, only reason I read the article was because I love her Site, so I think they call ur response an epic fail

        • Pisces2g

          love the site*

    • Rih

      Agree limited less is the worst and tears always win in the best

    • Ms. Boss

      PS: Great review Trent! I don’t like this album but to each his own

    • Girrrl

      My fave tracks are Tears Always Win 101 one thing and fire we make. The album is solid but her voice does affect it negatively.

    • Joey

      I can’t notice anything different of her voice from this album, compared to her others?

    • AM!R

      I don’t understand how anyone could like this album. She sounds a mess. No breath control and pitchy for most of it. I only like 2 songs on the entire album. 2/5 stars

    • ni

      I’m gonna need Ms. Keys to braid her hair and retrieve her vocal from late 90’s early 2000. cuz as of now… no bueno. I miss the old Keys its okay to reinvent and grow but this over the top feminism movement is not the business. 🙁 Still enjoy the old stuff when she was hungry.


      I agree with Trent that teh album is amazing. Truw music and a true artist. Hope she has a big #1 this week
      I disagree about the song “Listen to your heart”. It´s one of my faves on the album and I can´t get enough of it. I wouldn´t mind it being longer 🙂
      I also love “One thing”
      So I agree with some things Trent said but I don´t with others. Overall, our conclusion is the same: such a strong album

    • DRB

      DEAD at the last sentence.

      There is a chunk of the album I could do without but the other stuff is great songs. Really great songs. But her voice really detracts from them.

      101, Tears Always Win, and Fire We Make are my favorites, but again, her voice isn’t inviting. In fact, its doing the opposite. 🙁

    • Larry

      Good review funny aswell

    • michael

      Trent is a hot mess. He gives the cd props and then says the girl can’t sing. SMH Girl on Fire is a BANGER, i love that song. It just pops. Queens will be Queens

      • Joey

        Alicia can sing.. I don’t know where Trent is coming from with this one. I honestly can’t see any difference in her voice from now back to her earlier days.

    • Music-Doc

      Once again, you have written a great review. However, I disagree that this album is better than “Element of Freedom.” Yeah, sure, “EOF” had some miss-steps, but it is still a better album than “Girl On Fire.”

      “Girl On Fire” is most definitely her weakest album to date. The best songs on the album are as follows: “Brand New Me,” “New Day,” “Girl On Fire,” “Fire We Make,” “Tears Always Win,” and “Not Even the King.” The rest of the album, however, is quite forgettable, and just really boring (I tried so hard to like the rest of the album, I really did).

      Overall, I am really disappoint in Alicia Keys. This is the first time that she has made an album that is only half good. But, who knows my opinion might change in a couple of months.

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