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CD review: Alicia Keys’ ‘Girl on Fire’

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Alicia Keys
Girl on Fire
Two and a half stars

Pitched somewhere between the nightclub and the coffeehouse, Alicia Keys’ fifth album, Girl on Fire, manages to capture some of the dullest aspects of both. Keys is a strong singer and can be a capable songwriter (she’s aided here by talents including Dr. Dre, Frank Ocean, Bruno Mars and her husband Swizz Beatz), but most of Girl sounds lethargic and warmed-over. Keys isn’t (and probably shouldn’t be) fully committed to competing with people like Beyoncé and Rihanna, so beat-oriented songs like “New Day” and “Limitedless” come off as awkward. But the album’s sedate piano ballads are equally uninspired, with generic lyrics and weak hooks (the Babyface-produced “That’s When I Knew” sounds like a ’90s leftover). The excellent “Tears Always Win” brings together modern-sounding beats with a bright, classic R&B feel, perfectly balancing Keys’ retro sensibilities with a more current approach, but it’s the sole unqualified success on an otherwise muddled album.

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