ALICIA KEYS 'Girl on Fire' (RCA)
"Girl on Fire:"? Grabby title, and the song of the same name hangs its hat on a big, belted-out hook that demands attention.
It's a misleading sobriquet, though, for Alicia Keys' fifth album, a bounce-back from the mid-career rut of 2007's "As I Am" and 2009's "The Element of Freedom." Maybe marriage and motherhood have something to do with it -- her son Egypt shows up acting cutesy at the end of "When It's All Over" -- but "Girl on Fire" is marked more by confidently composed maturity than an effort to set the night ablaze.
Sure, there are some silly, de rigueur concessions to the marketplace, such as the Nicki Minaj rap appended to the title track, or the knotty reggae rhythm that Ms. Keys awkwardly navigates at the start of the clumsily titled "Limitedless." But Ms. Keys mostly plays to her strengths here. She starts off with the piano-tinkling "De Novo Adagio" intro, teams up effectively with both Maxwell and blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr. on "Fire We Make," digs into a gospel groove on "Not Even the King," and, most effectively, delivers a just-right raspy soul vocal on "Tears Always Win," a huge hit-to-be co-written with Bruno Mars.
-- Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer
KE$HA 'Warrior' (Kemosabe/RCA)(RCA)
Ke$ha burst onto the scene with 2009's "Animal," a wonderland of bourbon-breath'd, glitter-flecked, dance-all-night moral relativists. "Warrior," her guest-laden follow-up, begins on a similar course. Lead single "Die Young" is a classic live-for-the-party anthem, while the Iggy Pop duet "Dirty Love" is deliciously, almost uncomfortably filthy. But cracks begin to show in Ke$ha's neon body paint, through which we can see a beating, vulnerable heart. The house thumper "Wherever You Are" and the Strokes-assisted "Only Wanna Dance With You" celebrate love of the nonfleeting variety. And the Ben Folds/Flaming Lips-aided deluxe edition track "Past Lives" chronicles an oddball romance for the ages. Even the kiss-off "Thinking of You" reveals previously uncharted depths. While not a completely seamless process, the evolution of Ke$ha is fascinating to watch.
-- Brian Howard, The Philadelphia Inquirer
KID ROCK 'Rebel Soul' (Atlantic)
Heartland rock and country epics -- that was Kid Rock, vintage 2010. Kid's "Born Free" that year was a good one, filled with the grandeur, grit and fresh air of a Bob Seger record, without Kid's usual hip-hop lean or strip-club soliloquies. Problem was, few people bought into the idea of a Chevy truck-driving, wind-in-your-hair-styled Kid. They like their Kid with dirty hair and a dirtier mind.
So he gave it to them.
"Rebel Soul" is more cliche-driven than Rock's foul, funkier previous albums. Then again, you don't come to Kid's albums for innovation. You come for tried-and-true rock-out axioms, ideas as worn as old motorcycle boots, and how Kid somehow makes them inviting. The churning, bass-heavy sound behind the yowling Rock is crusty and distorted -- a perfect fit for the sleaze factor of cuts like "Cocaine and Gin." Throw some hip-hop and a hot tub into that equation? A tune like "Cucci Galore." Replace sex and drugs with cars, and there's the rich Corinthian leather of "3 CATT Boogie."
No matter how tacky or tawdry, there's always an earnest Kid trying to break through on tunes like "God Save Rock n Roll." As long as it's nasty, let him try.
-- A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirermusic