Beyonce’s big breakthrough
Singer’s surprise online album release sends her beyond the stratosphere
YOU MAY not be surprised that a new Beyoncé album just fell out of the stars without warning – and that it’s the splashiest cannonball of her career. But you will be surprised that it’s quirky, and candid, and weird, and raunchy, and so many other things that Beyoncé has never been. You may be surprised that she uses “Monica Lewinsky” as a verb. But you probably won’t be surprised that it’s great.
Considering this woman spent her 2013 conjuring an illusion of spontaneity from a script that never veers off message, did anyone see this thing coming?
A quick recap: She sang at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, then confessed to lip-syncing. She broke a righteous sweat at the Super Bowl, then tried to scrub the internet of unflattering evidence. She produced a bio-doc about motherhood and superstardom for HBO, which felt as intimate as advertising. Her career rolled on like a perpetual-motion magic trick.
The closer we got to Beyoncé, the further away she seemed.
That changes right here. Her self-titled fifth album is a hard pivot into idiosyncratic R&B that feels as vast and frisky as Prince’s 1987 masterstoke Sign o’ the Times. Checking in at 14 songs – packaged with 17 companion videos, all of it released on iTunes just over a week ago – it’s her most compelling offering since 2003’s Dangerously In Love.
It kinda had to be. Beyoncé’s not only asking us to cough up time and money during a holiday season when everyone’s short on both, she’s also asking us to forget that her previous album, 4, was as thrilling as 2 per cent milk.
Just five minutes in, nobody sounds more bored with Beyoncé than Beyoncé: “I’m climbing up the walls/Cause all this s*** I hear is boring,” she mutters. “All the s*** I do is boring.”
So she slams down on the gas, going from control- freaky to freaky- freaky at the speed of R Kelly’s Maybach. Rocket rivals the sex-aphorical wowzas of any Kelly verse, while modernising the slow drip of a D’Angelo ballad.
There are waterfalls and rivers and sins and sweat.
She’s a bit more blunt with Blow, a strutting, moaning disco vamp. Then, suddenly, she teleports into a funkier time zone, chucking verse- chorus- verse trajectories out the window. It’s a smart step toward the form-dissolving songcraft of Maxwell, Erykah Badu and Frank Ocean, who proves himself a worthy duet partner during the futuristic doowop of Superstar.
She can still breathe wildfire, of course. Check out ***Flawless, a feminist salvo that doesn’t need those asterisks in its title to stand out as the album’s most rivetting moment.
With a guest monologue from author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, this is Beyoncé at her most poised. “I took some time to live my life,” she sings. “But don’t think I’m just his little wife.”
Her marriage seems stable, though. Duetting with her husband, Jay-Z, on Drunk in Love, she raps giddily like she’s playing Double Dutch in an earthquake.
As for the music videos – they aren’t necessary. Marketing this thing as a “visual album” may have been a nifty trick to convince us to fully commit our senses to the experience, but these songs are plenty commanding in their own right. – Washington Post
SURPRISE PACKAGE: Beyonce’s new album is quirky, candid and raunchy.