2 stars (out of 4)
It’s probably unfair to expect more from
No blood, no tears, no sweat – not many artists are willing to give that much to their music. But when they do, they can make even the most banal sentiments sound earth-shattering. Keys never leaves herself that vulnerable. She specializes in the skin-deep, not the soul-wrecking.
Despite being hyped as her most “personal” album, “Girl on Fire” (RCA) is really just more of the same. She shakes up her collaborators, working with new songwriting partners such as U.K. upstart Emeli Sande,
Keys celebrates her marriage to producer Swizz Beatz and birth of her now 2-year-old son with written-by-committee songs that reveal no emotional secrets and offer no surprises beyond their generic titles: "Brand New Me," "New Day," "Listen to Your Heart." Rebirth, renewal, self-empowerment – these themes might be terrific buzz words for a self-help book, but Keys never humanizes them, no matter how many times she lets a rasp creep into her voice.
In their between-the-sheets duet on “Fire We Make,” Keys and
By far the album's best track is one buried near the end, Ocean's "One Thing," a song rife with stark images ("square face and puffy eyes") and vulnerability ("I need a gentle word, I need your company"). When Keys' understated delivery shifts into a delicate, upper-register plea, she sounds as genuine and moving as she's ever been on a recording. No wonder those high expectations for what Alicia Keys might do just won't die.