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Beyoncé's country album 'Cowboy Carter': Euronews Culture's verdict

- Theo Farrant

Beyoncé is back with her new album, ‘ACT II: COWBOY CARTER’, which dropped this morning at midnight.

Our writers Theo Farrant and David Mouriquand share their takes.

"A deeply personal triumph"

In an audacious move, Beyoncé, the reigning Queen of R&B and Pop, saddles up for a 27-track, toe-tapping ride through the heart of country music with her latest offering, 'COWBOY CARTER'. Personally, as someone who generally stays clear of country and western music (despite Lainey Wilson having my heart), I found myself pleasantly surprised on first listen.

Right from the uplifting vocalled opening track 'AMERIICAN REQUIEM', Beyoncé confronts the lingering echoes of her past tensions with unwavering grace. Over a backdrop of swirling sitars and ethereal harmonies, she asserts her place in a complex genre long dominated by white male voices and entangled in a history marked by the exclusion of Black voices. Crypticall­y recounting the blatantly racist backlash she faced after her crossover with The Chicks at the Country Music Associatio­n Awards in 2016, it’s clear from the get-go that this album is both deeply personal and political. “Plant my bare feet on solid ground for years. They don’t know how hard I had to fight for this” she asserts.

Throughout the album's first half, Beyoncé delves deep into the roots of country music. From "rugged whiskey" to "hoops, spurs, boots," she paints vivid portraits of life down South, enriched further by enlisting the legendary voices of Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton.

Yet, 'COWBOY CARTER' refuses to be boxed into the confines of country clichés. As Beyoncé herself declared before the album dropped, "This ain't a Country album. This is a 'Beyoncé' album." True to her word, tracks like the booming 'SPAGHETTII' and the wildly upbeat 'YA YA' veer into unexpected territorie­s, blending hip-hop, psychedeli­c soul, and flamenco. Remnants of dance music from her 2022 ' RENAISSSAN­CE' album also find their place within the undeniable bops 'RIIVERDANC­E' and 'II HANDS II HEAVEN'.

While contributi­ons from Miley Cyrus and Post Malone add a welcomed touch of variety, it is Beyoncé's outstandin­g vocals and presence that truly anchor the project. Once again, she reaffirms herself as a master of her craft. And though I can't ignore potential criticisms about the album's lengthy runtime (80 minutes) and occasional lack of cohesion, I found a lot to enjoy here.

'COWBOY CARTER' feels like a deeply personal triumph for Queen Bey and a resounding “fuck you” to those who doubted her in 2016. TF

"Slick, theatrical, but inescapabl­y baggy"

Queen B has officially entered her country era and there’s so much to enjoy about ' ACT II: COWBOY CARTER' even before you’ve started listening to the record - the second part of triptych that kicked off in 2022 with 'RENAISSANC­E'. B’s dedication to Black reclamatio­n of country music’s roots, standing in opposition to stereotypi­cal associatio­ns of the genre with whiteness; an almighty middle finger to the prejudiced US country radio stations giving the singles ‘ TEXAS

HOLD ‘EM’ and ‘16 CARRIAGES’ modest airplay due to a portion of Nashville clearly clinging onto its marginalis­ation of outsiders... As a Texan recording an album which she states was "born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed" ( a likely a reference to her 2016 Country Music Awards appearance), I wanted to love Beyoncé’s eighth solo offering a lot more than do.

Before the Hive start picking up pitchforks, accusing me of not understand­ing how this is already a timeless classic (something so swiftly proclaimed every time the Queen drops a record), let me explain. I’m only on three full listens as I write these words. But considerin­g that comes to a meaty 240 minutes in total - as the album’s 27 song-strong tracklist (many of which are spoken word interludes) is B’s longest to date -

I think I’ve come to an assessment I can stand behind.

It starts off strong and that lasts until track 10. It completely loses me in the middle section from tracks 11 to 19, including fair-to-middling tracks with Miley Cyrus and Post Malone. It then wins me back with album standouts ‘YA YA’ and the double tap of ‘RIIVERDANC­E’ and ‘II HANDS II HEAVEN’ (both of which sound like they could have been at home on ‘RENAISSANC­E’). It then comes to a broadly satisfying conclusion.

I’m in awe of how Beyoncé manages to genre-meld and splice pop hooks and R’n’B into the country fold. It’s seamless and engaging throughout. And the two tracks I was most concerned about - The Beatles cover of ‘Blackbird’ and Bey’s take on Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ - end up being highlights. The first is a faithful but poignant cover that takes on new dimensions when considerin­g Paul McCartney was originally inspired by the Little Rock Nine, who faced discrimina­tion after enrolling in an all-white high school in 1957’s Arkansas. By giving the melody four fully loaded pistols with the harmonised vocals of Black country singers Brittney Spencer, Reyna Roberts, Tanner Adell and Tiera Kennedy, the song becomes a rousing gospel anthem that will knock you sideways.

The Dolly cover is prefaced by a spoken word interlude from Parton herself, who notes the parallels between her lyrics and "that hussy with the good hair" - a reference to Beyoncé's 2016 song ‘Sorry’, in which Beyoncé called out "Becky with the good hair" as her cheating husband Jay-Z's (alleged) floozy. The whole “Hey miss Honey B, it’s Dolly P” bit, coupled with "No matter the genre, heartache hits the same" made me cringe a little. To be blunt, all the interludes became tiresome after a while. But then comes the actual cover, which puts B’s vocals front and centre, while adding some bite to the original. Beyoncé’s fiery changes include lines like “I can easily understand why you’re attracted to my man / But you don’t want this smoke / So shoot your shot for someone else.”

I’ll briefly circle back to ‘YA YA’, a soul romp which is what would have happened if Tina Turner sampled Nancy Sinatra’s ‘ These Boots Are Made For Walking’ and Beach Boys’ ‘ Good Vibrations’ whilst heading to a funky square dance. Yes, it’s as good as it sounds.

For all my reservatio­ns, the album remains catchy, slick, theatrical - but inescapabl­y baggy. For me, it falls short of classic status - unlike ACT I, which had my Achy Breaky Heart from the start of the hoedown. When 'RENAISSANC­E' explored the forgotten or dismissed Black (and queer) roots of house music, it did so in a more consistent way, and without laying it on quite as thick. Lyrically speaking, mileage will vary for ‘ COWBOY CARTER’ considerin­g the sheer amount of Americana tropes and country signifiers. But maybe that’s the point - you can’t reclaim a genre without ticking the hard-to-ignore rhinestone, whiskey and coyote boxes. However, ' RENAISSANC­E' felt like it had a tighter grasp on its concept, without indulging in so many clichés - or *whisper it* weak lyrics.

Still, name me an artist of Beyoncé’s fame and stature who is capable of nailing such a bold and range-defying project. What can’t she do?

With that question in mind, I’m still hoping that ACT III be a punk rock odyssey with a horsey on the cover decked out in tartan and safety pins. DM

 ?? ?? Euronews Culture gives its take on Beyoncé's new album
Euronews Culture gives its take on Beyoncé's new album
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