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updated: 11/29/2012 6:23 AM

Keys matures as 'Girl on Fire' ignites

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  • Alicia Keys' "Girl on Fire"

      Alicia Keys' "Girl on Fire"
    ASSOCIATED PRESS/RCA RECORDS

 
Associated Press

Alicia Keys, "Girl on Fire" (RCA Records)

Alicia Keys doesn't do half-measures. Her fifth studio album, "Girl on Fire," comes on hard and fast, seemingly stripped but rich in sound, triumphant to the point of a cinematic epic scope. It's her first release since marrying producer-rapper Swizz Beatz and the birth of their son, Egypt.

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Keys' name pops up buoyantly on all writing and producing credits of this 13-track record, a perfect mirroring of its title. But that's no surprise. She does, however, collaborate with some new folks -- including Bruno Mars, Frank Ocean, Jamie xx and Emeli Sande -- and that helps make the album eclectic, while maintaining Keys' signature -- and stunning -- sound.

The Grammy winner's voice feels unstoppable and free, channeling the martial pop of Beyoncé on "New Day," the romantic flourishes of Toni Braxton on the Maxwell-assisted "Fire We Make" and the bewitching auditory imagery of Tori Amos on the album's grand finale, "101." Nicki Minaj adds her brand of edge to the title track and lead single, while Keys' toddler, Egypt, pulls an adorable coda on the jazzy industrial "When It's All Over."

"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. Pun intended.

Check this out: "Brand New Me" starts up the album with a dramatic piano and unflinching confidence.

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