Today, the once fawned-over phenom Alicia Keys released her fifth album, Girl on Fire (not a Hunger Games reference!). It's pretty good — I've never thought of her as a great provider of texture, but there's a sonic adventurousness to this album unlike that of any she's released so far. Perhaps it is compensation for her increasingly strained voice (though that sort of thing rarely bothers me — a little grit from overuse can add a lot of soul).
The most ear-pleasing Fire offering is "When It's All Over," Keys' collaboration with Jamie xx (he's of the xx and responsible for Drake and Rihanna's "Take Care"). The subject matter is well-worn territory — the if-I-do-nothing-else-at-least-I-was-with-you sentiment was already expressed in Whitney Houston's "My Love Is Your Love," for one (and like that track, this one also features Keys' kid being cutesy and kid like toward its end). Ben Ratliff's Times review of Fire seemed to express surprise at how cliched Keys comes off on the album, but she has always rolled like that, and besides, humanizing the cliche has long been the inadvertent m.o. of soul music.
And if you get to do that amongst a shower of clattering cymbals, a moaning electric bass line, a determined pulsing bass drum and wiggly Talking Book synths, all the better. If Alicia Keys releases no other music, at least she made this.