Though perfectly capable of carrying slightly more uptempo songs, Alicia Keys will probably always sound most comfortable behind a piano with not much else in the way. So while “New Day” and “Girl On Fire” – early releases from her upcoming album, Girl On Fire – are mostly passable records, it’s tracks like “Not Even The King” that are still her bread and butter.
With idealistic lyrics painting love as the most valuable currency, the song feels in some ways about a year removed from a perfect release date: you can just imagine it serving as something of a balancing act to an album like Watch the Throne, which was criticized by some for being insensitive to the economic climate surrounding it. But “Not Even The King” remains a beautifully restrained number, with Keys smartly resisting the urge to break into a crescendo that the track never calls for.
Still, she manages to sell the song through the vocal performance. It’s soulful, but left unpolished by a folk-blues edge. It’s enough that when Keys sings: “They can’t afford this, this is priceless / They can’t afford what we got, not even the king,” you almost forget that it’s a multimillionaire artist delivering the lines.