Beyoncé – Beyoncé | Review

(Parkwood / Columbia)

Well…  That sort of came out of nowhere, didn’t it?

Very canny of Mrs. Carter to release this, her fifth solo album, on an (almost) unsuspecting world shortly before midnight on December 13th 2013. Stating that she was “bored” of releasing albums in the traditional manner and that her new strategy allowed her to “speak directly to (her) fans,” Beyonce has also succeeded in avoiding that most modern pitfall; it was not leaked online prior to being sold on iTunes. Once released amid a frenzy of social network buzz, the clamour to download this surprise record reportedly crashed iTunes, sold upwards of 80,000 digital copies in around three hours, and is on course to sell around 600,000 before the new chart is released on Sunday evening. Well played, madam.

But is it any good?

Actually, yes it is.

Appropriately for a self-titled record, Beyonce contains some fairly personal and intimate lyrical content. “Drunk In Love,” featuring hubby Jay-Z, and “Blow” among others for example, are more explicitly sexual, and sexually explicit, than anything she has done before. While I doubt such a change in lyrical direction will please many parents of the usually quite clean cut Beyonce’s teenage fans, there is still something missing from such sexually charged tracks. There is still a sense that, technically gifted as she is in terms of vocal range, phrasing, and performance, a definite distance between performer and audience remains; it is somehow difficult to really believe or feel the message contained in these more intimate, personal moments. A small gripe, perhaps, but one that ensures the record remains good rather than great.

Away from the record’s more sexually charged tracks, and there are many of them, there is time and space afforded for the recurring theme of female empowerment found on the majority of Beyonce’s previous releases. Opening track “Pretty Hurts” attacks the beauty industry’s hold over the hearts and minds of young women, albeit a little predictably, using the beauty pageant culture of the USA as its touchstone. Elsewhere “Flawless” samples Nigerian author Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk “We Should All Be Feminists,” particularly her critique of the conditioning of young women toward being docile wives with little personal ambition outside of marital bliss.

Contributions from R&B / Hip Hop heavyweights including Frank Ocean, Pharell Williams, Timbaland, and Drake, complement rather than compete for attention against the excellent as ever vocals of the star turn, and the typical hallmarks of Mrs. Carter’s previous works are all present and correct. Amazing vocals? Check. Super slick production? Check. Girl power? Check.

Beyonce is arguably both smarter and sexier than anything she has released before. Covering much of the same thematic ground as Lady Gaga’s recent car crash of a record, but with better songs and less idiotic lyrics, Beyonce draws a definite line in the sand and dares her competitors to step up.

Take heed, Gaga: this is how it’s done.

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About John Stubley

John Stubley
John Stubley is a part-time Associate Professor of English, and full-time repository for pointless trivia. Holding rather worthless degrees in Media and Popular Culture, and 18th Century English Literature, he now fills his time by spouting forth opinions on everything that may conceivably be referred to as Pop Culture to anyone who will listen, and many who won't.

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