Opening her fifth album, Girl on Fire, with a short piano piece, as per her previous albums, is a signature for Alicia Keys. De Novo Adagio firstly reminds us that Keys is classically trained, and is serious business. Creeping seamlessly into her first song Brand New Me. Co-written with Scottish artiste Emeli Sandé, it is a song of rebirth, independence and that is basically the message Keys is trying to send across. It hits its climax a little too late into the track, 2:40 in, if I was uninterested I would have already clicked the skip button.
That's not to say this album isn't genius. I simply adore Keys understated vocal capabilities, and her tone is both sexy and calming, the epitome of that pairing apparent in Fire We Make, featuring R&B singer Maxwell. The latter's falsettos are TO DIE FOR. I mean it. With little melody and a lot of slow jamming, and the addition of that little bit of electric guitar underscoring both their licks and runs is simply magical. Honestly, it could be acapella for all I care, because their vocal chemistry is sickkk, like the fire they are fictitiously singing about making.
The Bruno Mars collaboration Tears Always Win was an interesting listen, as it fused two distinct sounds - Mars' doo-wop retro-pop and Keys' retro classical/R&B vibe. The product that results from that collab is simply stunning. The shuffling beats and Mars' doo-wop quality has me thinking it's a female Bruno Mars singing really, and Keys has totally filled that position nicely.
New Day starts off with a pretty upbeat, military-styled intro and slips into a piano-driven melody with Keys' strong soulful voice and is a better representation of her slightly evolved sound than Brand New Me or Girl on Fire are. It's good to see her utilise her soul aspect of her vocal abilities better, as previously sampled in Empire State of Mind.
Closing ballad One Thing and 101 are lovely tunes, but with no strong hooks to keep it stuck in my head, end up being rather forgettable. I found her passionate growls in 101 very therapeutic, coupled with the echoes of the title, but it should have stopped at the 4 minute mark. Everything after that was just violent and a mess to listen to, with its atmospheric hallelujahs and crashing drums, which obviously have some deeper meaning but I find it aurally redundant. Still, I would think this is one impressive album, after some weaker offerings from Keys, so do give this a listen!
Track Cuts: 101, Tears Always Win, Fire We Make, Brand New Me.