The world must be about to end because Beyoncé just made a great album. And I don’t mean that as a slight, but if you’re like me, this is the album you’ve been waiting for Beyoncé to make since her debut as a solo artist. I admit to my opening sentence being hyperbolic, but I think this recording does signify an end to the types of albums she’s made thus far and could be a sign of a new beginning for her.
I’m just going to make the disclaimer right now that this is an opinion piece and I don’t strive for objective album reviews. For one thing, they don’t exist, no matter how hard the writer may try. Perception of music is always subjective unless we’re in the realm of theoretical analysis and that’s not nearly as fun as approaching a project with all of your tastes and biases. Otherwise, what’s the point? And this can be done without indulging in personal attacks, although to the artist, any negative critique has the propensity to be taken as a personal attack.
I remember watching an interview before B’Day came out about how she sequestered herself from everyone for 3 weeks to make it and how much heart and soul went into the process. I was really looking forward to the release. I went to the record store on release day and after hearing it, I felt B’Day failed to live up to her promises. But this new album sounds to me like that one should have. This work is lived in. She has nothing to prove at this point. Beyoncé went for it. No one can criticize her for pandering to the Pop aesthetic on this one. Very sincere album.
Save for a couple of standouts on Dangerously In Love (“Me, Myself and I” and “Speechless”), “Kitty Kat” on B’Day, or “Party” and “Rather Die Young” from 4, the bulk of her albums have been fluff. She’s built her career on primarily being a singles artist. What I find interesting is that while her husband and their friend Kanye seem to be phoning it in as of late, she seems to be stepping her album game up. Watch the throne, fellas, King Bey has arrived. Bow down!
Beyoncé didn’t make any stank about this album coming out. Not even her stans knew. And she was savvy enough as to release it on the day to throw Taylor Swift a little birthday shade. The marketing of no marketing. The Internet has been all hers post-midnight this morning. It worked in a way only she could pull off. I dropped two albums this year with no publicity campaign or marketing strategy and no one gave a shit. Ha! What’s most impressive is that she chose this point in her career to have no pretense about an album that has elements that are most certainly boast worthy.
As of now, the album is only available for download on iTunes with the physical disc being forthcoming. Each title is accompanied by a video, which quite frankly, some of the songs need. The album leads off with one of its weaker joints, “Pretty Hurts,” and is certainly assisted by the visual component as it’s not strong enough to stand alone as a composition. Next we get to “Haunted,” which is one of several records that is reminiscent of classic Prince, especially in its sonic landscape and drum programming. In the video sequence, “Ghost” is the following track — also Prince-esque — but oddly doesn’t appear on the album.
She recreates herself on every song and that’s no easy feat to pull on one album without coming off contrived. She even makes me like songs I don’t like, except for “XO,” which besides the first song is the album’s only other skippable track. Be forewarned: I was afraid I was going to go into epileptic shock watching the end of “Heaven.”
I kinda hate comparisons, but I’d be remiss not to acknowledge how much “Rocket” sounds like D’Angelo’s “Untitled,” and even harkens back to her own “Speechless,” which also references “Untitled.” The timpani on “Superpower” reminds me of Shirley Murdock’s “As We Lay.” “Rocket” and “Superpower” are gospel-tinged and in 3/4 time, which is a weak spot for me. I was pleased at the inclusion of both as I never get enough of these.
My absolute favorite track is “Blow.” I was hooked from the start with its usage of SUS chords, and I’m a sucker for SUS chords. Put a couple of SUS chords on a track like this with a nice beat and I’m sold. For non-musicians, SUS chords are the type of chords that are played in the opening guitar riff on the Ramsey Lewis/Earth, Wind and Fire collaboration, “Sun Goddess.” The other standout is “Mine.” The way she uses her voice throughout the album is astonishing, particularly on “Mine.” She’s always been a strong singer with a great range but obviously still spends a lot of time practicing and developing where she could easily rest on laurels at this point in her career. And her lower register is becoming richer and more supple than before.
Two types of songs I always hate on albums are songs about “Mamas” and songs with people’s children on them. She somehow finds a way to feature her daughter to make “Blue” work in a way even Stevie couldn’t with “Isn’t She Lovely,” Songs in the Key of Life‘s only skippable track.
Finally a Beyoncé album I could fuck to with only having to take a few songs out of my playlist. I ain’t mad at her. Very curious to see what she does next. The beautiful thing is if she goes back to making mediocre albums there’s no love lost. She’s matured to the point that as the premiere stadium performer of our time, she surprisingly included only two stadium anthems, “Pretty Hurts” and “XO,” and even they work in the context of the visual element. It appears as if Sasha Fierce took a break from the studio for the majority of the time this go round. In an era where it’s become cliché for artists to claim they’re bringing “real” music back to the mainstream, she may quietly be one that can.
And thanks Bey for leaving “Grown Woman” off of the album. The last thing your album needed is a spoof of a spoof like “Blurred Lines.” Hey, hey, hey!
— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop