Knowles, who has been MIA from the music scene since her 2011 effort 4, on December 2013 at 12:01 AM, after two-years of what seemed like an endless drought for Beyoncé fans around the world; the singer released her fifth studio album the self-titled BEYONCÉ. With no promotion, no lead single, no lead music video it is without a doubt the great Beyhydration has ended, and the thirst has been quenched by this 32 track (14 songs, 17 music videos) visual album. Let’s take a track-by-track look at her latest effort.
Pretty Hurts –Produced by Ammo, with a writing credit from Sia, Australian downtempo pop music extraordinaire, this smoky pop/soul song is a social commentary about the obscure and harmful effects that the beauty industry has on society. With lyrics such as “South Beach/ Sugar free/ Vogue says thinner is better” and “Perfection is the disease of a nation/ Pretty Hurts”. Beautifully crafted, written and produced, this song is tear jerker and some of the most emotional and powerful music Beyoncé has put out to date, but something we’ve all seen/heard before.
Ghost/Haunted – is a two-part song where Murky keyboards, recessed vocals and something we get to see more of on this record, Beyoncé rapping (yes, you read that correctly), and a bass line that creeps up on you all blend together exquisitely in this futuristic track about the appalling nature of the record label industry today. This album was released with no press, no promo, no lead single, nothing and the lyrics of Ghost/Haunted can help us guess as to why with lyrics like: “All the shit I do is boring/ all these record labels boring/ I don’t trust these record labels /I’m touring”. The song comes together beautifully to deliver a message we already know: record labels don’t view music as art anymore, just as a product.
Drunk in Love (feat Jay-Z) – Trap beats and synths help Beyoncé and Jay-Z make a beautiful rap-sung collab where Beyoncé access her lady-thug realness and create an explicit ode to love-making between two people who are endlessly in love. Beyoncé croons on the track: “I’ve been drinking/I’ve been drinking/I get filthy when that liquor get into me”. One of the best songs on the record.
Blow – Holy cow. This is hands down one of the best songs on the record and this track with its overt sexual nature (along with several others) have given rise to a new class of Beyoncé songs I like to call “Beyoncé in the boudoir”. Produced by some of the best in music, Pharrell and Timbaland. A disco-stained retro R&B track very reminiscent of dirty-sex record from Prince circa early 80s this song intelligently used innuendo to refer to well….I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves “Can you lick my skittles/It’s the sweetest in the middle/Pink, that’s the flavor/Solve the riddle”. With blow we see one of the recurring themes of the album: frank exploration of female sexuality through postfeminism, and God (or should I say Goddess?) does it sound good.
No Angel – Bad has never sounded so good through this slow and sensual song about a magnetic attraction between to people who aren’t the most morally upright. With lyrics like “I come with a side of trouble/But I know that’s why you’re staying” and “Baby put your arms around me/Tell me I’m the problem help create an image of a bad girl and bad boy destined to be together.. While the track isn’t as memorable as its predecessor and lacking production in some places it doesn’t cease to get the job done.
Yoncé/Partition – A two-part hip-hop song with an intro of Beyoncé talking to an audience saying: “Let me hear you say heyyyyyy Ms. Carter!” Yoncé starts off with Beyoncé rapping yet again and absolutely slaying with the lyrics “I sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker/Yoncé all on his mouth liquor”. After which the song transforms into a jazzy hip-hop head banger with a bass that’s impossible NOT to dance to, “Partition” is a narrative of sexual intercourse in a moving limousine with frank lyrics like “He popped all my buttons/ He ripped my blouse/ He Monica Lewinsky’d all on my gown” and “Handprints and footprints on my glass/ Handprints and footprints all on my ass”, which are just two I’ve selected from a slew of favorites from this song alone. With production by Justin Timberlake, Timbaland, Jerome Harmon and Key Wane this song is beyond well-crafted and disgustingly well written. Another shining example of one of the best songs on the record, the bees buzzing as an ode to the Queen Bee is a lovely touch at the end.
Jealous – Lyrically this song is good, the production is lacking and it comes across as a little lax, like Beyoncé’s a little tired while recording. Overall the record is forgettable and boring when juxtaposed with the rest of the record.
Rocket – Any song that opens with the lyric “Let me sit this ass on you” is a winner in my book. A retro-soul song that’s feel-good in every sense of the phrase, this song is slippery funk excursion gorgeously executed over six and a half minutes. Lyrics like “I do it like it’s my profession/ I gotta make a confession”, make it hard to not be seduced by Beyoncé as she swoops in and delicately caresses your fantasies with this record.
Mine (feat. Drake) – Honest, sincere, and heartfelt this song perfectly coalesces Beyoncé’s strong, emotive quintessence of femininity and Drake’s masculine declarative sense of feeling. Exploring the themes of true love and belonging to another person unconditionally, entrancing the listener with lyrics like “We should get married/ let’s stop holding back on this and let’s get carried away”.
XO – Frazzled keyboards smash against synthesizers and a marching drum beat to build upon this midtempo pop song. An open love-letter to someone we all know; this song is the album’s unhidden declaration of love. Lyrics like “Your love is brighter than ever/Even in the shadows” seems cliché and sappy but the production takes this draw back and makes up for it with powerful sledge hammering vocals.
***Flawless – A self-empowerment track it samples her song Bow Down which leaked last year. It features Beyoncé yelling the refrain “Bow down, bitches” over a clattering trap beat. ***Flawless takes traditionally seen hypermasculinty and makes it hyperfemine, a very “I am woman, hear me ROAR” track complemented by a sampling of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech “We Should All Be Feminist” it intends to carry power and camaraderie to women with lyrics like “We Flawless, ladies tell’em/ I woke up like this”. A postfeminist song that is dare I say……flawless.
Superpower (feat. Frank Ocean) – a mysterious and inviting track with an alternative R&B vibe with a warbling vocal delivery from both artist, Frank Ocean and Beyoncé are a match made in heaven for this collaboration.
Heaven – One of the two personal songs on the record, “Heaven” is a mournful piano-laden song with a just a tinge of that southern gospel overtone. It’s hard not to tear up or get lost in the past as Beyoncé delivers lyrics like “I just can’t stand to see you leaving/But heaven couldn’t wait for you”. While it seems less like a love song and more of a song dealing about death, perhaps about this miscarriage she suffered before conceiving Blue Ivy (as revealed in Jay-Z’s track Glory) it feels like a celebration of life and the inescapable embrace of death that you’d experience at a funeral or wake. The song raps up with a Spanish version of the Lord’s Prayer, which is a gorgeous and emotional touch.
Blue (feat. Blue Ivy) – Another personal piano pop-ballad about motherhood and a newfound purpose, it’s absolutely beautiful and breath taking as Beyoncé delicately crafts an emotional heart felt testimony to her daughter. As an overly emotional person, this song is one of the highlights of the record after her much highly published pregnancy and birth.
Overall this is one of the best albums of 2013, which I can say with confidence as 2013 comes to a close. We are witnessing the transcendence of Beyoncé to another plane. She’s selling records but also transforming culture and the politics of the entertainment industry in profound ways. Beyoncé proves (as other artists have done in the past) that you can deliver a kick-ass album without giving into the mindless machine that record labels have come to be. This is Beyoncé in the raw, and Beyoncé at her most impactful.
Key tracks: “Drunk In Love”, “Partition”, “Blow”, “Rocket”, “Mine”, “***Flawless”, “Superpower”, “Blue”.