It’s been three years since Alicia Keys released her last album. Since then, the 31-year-old singer has become a wife and mother, showcasing her newfound freedom and sound on her fifth album Girl on Fire, which she calls her best work yet. The Grammy winner reaches outside her usual collaborators, calling on Frank Ocean, Bruno Mars, Jamie xx, Emeli Sandé, Maxwell, and Nicki Minaj, who appears on the lead single.
Did Alicia spark a fire with critics? Find out below.
USA Today: Through her sometimes raspy vocals and intimate piano work, she conveys vulnerability and strength on such ballads as “Fire We Make” and “That’s When I Knew.” The passion in her songs seem to be an outgrowth of the passion she has for the music itself. 3.5/4
Rolling Stone: The result is both her catchiest and subtlest album yet—and one of the best R&B records of 2012. 4/5
Entertainment Weekly: When it comes to pure Juilliard-worthy talent, the ”brand new” Alicia Keys sounds a lot like the old one. But don’t be mad. That ain’t bad at all. B
Los Angeles Times: Girl on Fire basically delivers the same payload as Keys’ other albums; it’s a collection of handsomely crafted, gorgeously sung ballads interrupted by several overworked anthems about the value of perseverance. 2.5/4
The Washington Post: Girl sands down the edges of Keys’ nobility, but even at its most venomous, it doesn’t bite—it nibbles like an angry kitten. Its real pleasures lie in its subtle updating of her familiar, diaristic piano ballads, its incorporation of vaguely modern beats, and distinctive, martial percussion.
The Boston Globe: In line with R&B’s other great albums from this year (Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange and The Weeknd’s Trilogy), Girl on Fire is almost underproduced. It’s over the top in the right moments, but mostly it’s minimal and lean, as if fully aware that the action rises and falls in Keys’ voice.
Chicago Tribune: Despite being hyped as her most “personal” album, Girl on Fire is really just more of the same… By far the album’s best track is one buried near the end, Ocean’s “One Thing,” a song rife with stark images and vulnerability. 2/4
The New York Times: It’s the tracks in which Ms. Keys seems to pay attention to a quieter story rather than building new pedestals for herself—that echo and smudge and smear sounds, that lead toward paradox—that suggest something new for her.
Newsday: Girl on Fire is arguably Keys’ best album yet, the kind of triumph that comes only when you’re not out to prove anything, when your potential turns into actual mastery of your craft. A-
The Associated Press: Girl on Fire feels organically fed with inspiration, from the drops of light of “Listen to Your Heart” to the weird urban sounds of “Tears Always Win” to the funky reggae riffs of “Limitless.” Keys is on fire, and burning all the competition.
Rap-Up’s Favorite Tracks: “Girl on Fire,” “Fire We Make,” “Tears Always Win,” “Not Even the King”