Likes: Pretty Hurts, Haunted, XO, Superpower, Heaven, Blue
Dislikes: Drunk in Love, Partition, Flawless
Overall: Didn’t like it. It’s “I Am…Sasha Fierce” again-half substance, half useless. Great musical production.
After a whole year of watching, waiting and wondering, Beyonce` crept in like Santa Clause a little after midnight and released her new self-titled album for immediate download on ITunes (reportedly, physical copies will be available in stores December 20th). Yep, Beyonce` dropped an album out of nowhere with NO preliminary promotion, sending social media and late night news into a frenzy, saying in a press release that she was “bored” with the usual way of unveiling records. Conceptually branded as a “visual album,” the project comes with accompanying music videos and a mature content warning (mainly because of lyrics, but I’ll get to that). In terms of marketing, everything is very cool, exciting, unique and cutting edge, but is the actual album that way? Kind of, sort of, maybe.
The musical production is simply thrilling and spellbinding; if your dreams, reveries and drunken stupors had a soundtrack, “Beyonce`” would be it. Adding to the shadowy, phantasm-like experience are thoroughly enjoyable, naturally altering mid-song transitions, featuring real-life snippets from home movies. The song topic sometimes changes with the music too, keeping attention. Tracks that multi-task; how about that? Aside from some R&B and hip-hop back beats, “Beyonce`” is practically genre-less, which is always interesting (the production team includes Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, Ryan Tedder, Boots, Pharrell and Knowles herself). Vocally, Bey stays in a warm, middle spot, generally refraining from her usual riffs and runs (it’s up to you whether you think that’s negative or positive; I’m indifferent) and keeping her trademark harmony layers. Where things fall very far and short is in the lyrics department. There are definite winners (like the Frank Ocean co-penned “Superpower”), but most don’t finish the expedition they go on or they’re just written poorly. Some of these songs function like a story-book with the middle torn out; the starting details are where the whole song finishes. For example on “No Angel,” Beyonce`’s man is (assumingly) disappointed that she isn’t perfect and she kind of drives him crazy. That’s it. What is the “something complicated” that she says she is and also concludes he secretly likes? Why is he “no angel either?” Do their individual faults cause toxicity between them? There was plenty to explore, but instead the repetitively-lined chorus was drawn out and the verses were brief. Others cuts have hardly any lyrical value at all, like the already-popular and Twitter trending “Drunk in Love (likely a favorite because its catchy, thumping music; Bey wasn’t horrible at rapping, by the way),” which is quite literally about being drunk and screwing the night away. Additional cracks at being sexy oddly fail, depending on your definition of the term, which to me, doesn’t include crudeness. Beyonce`, of all artists was crude, with statements such as “He Monica Lewinsky-ed all on my gown (from “Partition,” which was covered in tawdriness),” “Turn that cherry out” (of “Blow”) and an unnecessary abundance of expletives throughout the record. Although “Rocket” brings D’Angelo’s timelessly sultry “Untitled (How Does it Feel)” to mind, it’s mostly plain execution and overused waterfall metaphors put it on the Kmart versions of “Speechless (from Beyonce`’s 2003 solo debut, “Dangerously in Love”)” list. Beyonce` hasn’t really expressed sexuality with the same illustrative, poetic and sensual sophistication that leaves something to the imagination since “Speechless.” On that note, it’s surprising that sex-especially tacky sex-would be a focal point of her album after building an entire platform not concentrated such, which many respect her for.
“Beyonce`” for me is like a more disorganized, slightly weaker “I Am…Sasha Fierce,” taking its place as my least favorite solo album from her (in fact, I never thought I’d see the day where I’d be so close to disliking one of her albums). It reminds me of “IASF” because half of it has some substance to it, while the other half serves as evidence to those who doubt her capacities (as a fan, the feeding of doubts is most frustrating because I know and have heard her do/write better). The track order doesn’t help because the mid-section is where most of the dimmer moments are and by the time you get to a brighter succession (“XO” is one of my favorite songs; it makes you think of the sweetest, most innocent minute of your love life), you’re brain is fried and you don’t want to take anymore.
Since the music videos are to be considered part of the album, I need to discuss them. Some are pulling, nicely done and give an unanticipated context to the songs. The video for “Jealous” presents a double-meaning; Bey is singing about being jealous and unfulfilled in a relationship, but in the video, she hints at being jealous of the ability of the non-famous to not always be a spectacle. “Partition” is a little less obnoxious, as it gives the viewpoint of a conservative woman wanting to show her mate a different side of her he’s not expecting. The body-image tale of “Pretty Hurts” is the best vignette in my opinion. Destiny’s Child makes an appearance in “Superpower” and Jay-Z in featured in multiple clips.
Collectively, I’m not sure what Beyonce` wanted me to gather from this album. It’s kind of confusing. Musically, it’s apparent the intent is to be raw without having a goal of charting or sales, but the holes in the writing and vapid plops among attractive rhythms say othwerwise. To a degree, “Beyonce`,” seems mixed, matched and slapped together. I’m really curious to hear other songs that didn’t make the final cut. When you think about the initial stylistically-similar tracks, “Standing on the Sun” and “Grown Woman” (heard in Beyonce’s Pepsi and H&M ads), it makes you wonder if the album had a completely different direction at first. Oh, and where is “God Made You Beautiful (available with the purchase of her HBO documentary DVD)?” What’s crystal clear to me is that, like Beyonce` reiterated on “Haunted,” she’s bored. Good artists don’t get complacent and she’s trying to challenge herself by going into unchartered waters. However, because she’s a perfectionist, she tries too hard to top herself and sometimes bypasses what’s right in front of her. Instead of taking the obvious, typical sexuality, hard language and controversial route to shake things up, she should’ve went personal. Afterall, the album is self-titled (what’s up with so many artists falling into the post-debut self-titled album jinx?). There were 4 instant topics between “Haunted” and “Mine ft. Drake,” that she could’ve elaborated on: the music business (“I don't trust these record labels”), feeling lost (“Took a trip to clear my mind, now I'm even more lost”), marriage and motherhood (“Been having conversations about breakups and separations, I'm not feeling like myself since the baby”). These items she merely touched on are things many can relate to or would like to hear her perspective about. For that matter, she could’ve turned her whole HBO special into a record, as she openly discussed a prior miscarriage, finding purpose, spirituality and familial affairs. “Beyonce`” could’ve been a really compelling tear-jerker of an album, but shoulda’, coulda’ woulda’, I guess. An album with Rihanna-tasting tracks (ex. Partition) was the follow-up to the lovely, throwback-flavored, love every-other -track-if-not-all “4.” Didn’t see that coming.