Alicia Keys's debut single, Fallin', was vital and heartbreaking, but as piano-and-pathos became her template, the music crept closer to commercially passable and critically whatever. Despite being an able, talented songwriter, she lacked adventurousness.
Fifth album Girl On Fire is a stultifying, prescriptive rebirth record. In the opening minutes she sings about rediscovering bravery - for Keys, it's through the ungirlish pursuits of marriage and motherhood - and finding a "brand new kind of me." While there are nice nods to emerging songwriters Frank Ocean, Emeli Sandé and Stacy Barthe, there's nothing brave about enabling husband Swizz Beatz's increasingly calamitous production (New Day).
The record's high point is Fire We Make, a scorching slow jam featuring the god Maxwell and rising blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr. But despite Keys's proficiency (she co-wrote Where's The Fun In Forever, one of the best songs on Miguel's new album), she's always seemed a little boring. On that front, she delivers.
Top track: Fire We Make, featuring Maxwell