Out of the blue Beyoncé dropped her self titled fifth solo album, BEYONCE, last week. It is one of the most exciting Pop albums in a while, not just because this is Beyoncé’s first studio album in two years. But also because of the production; all too often Pop music can be described as safe and predictable but those are too things that BEYONCE cannot be described as.
“Underneath the pretty face is something complicated” – Beyoncé on “No Angel”
We know that Beyoncé is a role model for women around the world; with songs titles like “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”, “Run The World” and “Crazy in Love” this isn’t hard to see. Songs like “Baby Boy” and “Naughty Girl” have shown Beyoncé’s sensual side in the past, she continues that on this album on “No Angel”, it’s predecessor on the album “Blow” and “Rocket”.
“Blow” is produced by two incredible producers, Pharrell Williams and Timbaland. The later’s influence is clear to hear, as just after the half way mark, the production changes from a light, hazy Electro Pop to Timbaland’s beatbox heavy Hip Hop/RnB style. On the face off it “Blow” sounds like an ideal song for radio but lyrics like, “give me that daddy long stroke” and “Can you lick my skittles,” throw any such thoughts out of the window.
“Foreplay in a foyer, fucked up my Warhol” – Jay-Z on “Drunk In Love”
Detail was on spectacular form when he crafted “Drunk In Love”, the song’s booming bass and bounce are bound to get even the sternest of people moving. It’s a song about the resulting events after a night out when Beyoncé and Jay-Z can’t keep their hands off each other. Besides disgusting details like, “New sheets, he sweat it out like washed rags, he wet it up,” this song is banger! The song’s title may allude that this is a continuation of one of the couple’s first collaborations “Crazy in Love”.
“He popped all my buttons, and he ripped my blouse
He Monica Lewinsky-ed all on my gown” – Beyoncé on “Partition”
“***Flawless” begins with the first part of “Bow Down / I Been On” which Beyoncé released online earlier this year, which is followed by a sample of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s TED Talk on contemporary feminism, followed by an empowering part of the song where Beyoncé asks, “ladies tell ‘em, say “I look so good tonight.” That’s quite a mix of sentiments expressed in just over 4 minutes and while it can be argued that the TED Talk sample along with the final third of the song brings the first verse into context – that is not a very strong argument. Beyoncé literally goes from singing, “Bow down bitches, bow-bow down bitches,” to a rousing sing along in which ‘ladies’ are expected to sing along to before Beyoncé informs us, “My Daddy taught me how to love my haters.” Hmm..
While much of the album’s production is forward thinking, songs like “Jealous” and “Rocket” are perhaps two of the album’s more conventional Pop songs. That’s not to say that they are bad, but they are certainly more ‘safe’ than the rest of BEYONCE is.
“Tryna fix something
But you can’t fix what you can’t see
It’s the soul that needs the surgery”- Beyoncé on “Pretty Hurts”
The album’s opening song is surprisingly deep, touching on beauty and the importance society places on appearance. The song seems to be set in a beauty pageant and the song’s video reaffirms that this is the case. Although many of us will never take part in a beauty pageant – lyrics like, “Perfection is the disease of a nation,” help to broaden the song’s appeal.
“Blonder hair, flat chest
TV says bigger is better
South beach, sugar free
Vogue says, thinner is better”- Beyoncé on “Pretty Hurts”
Hip Hop has had a big influence on this album’s sound, with many of BEYONCE’s songs featuring the slow beat and booming bass sound that is prevalent and popular in Hip Hop at the moment. Songs like “Drunk in Love”, “***Flawless” and “No Angel” feature beats that could have easily been used to huge success by any popular rapper you can think of.
“Soul not for sale
Probably won’t make no money off this, oh well
Reap what you sow
Perfection is so… Mm” – Beyoncé on “Haunted”
Genre wise “Haunted” is hard to pinpoint, the song takes you on a musical journey that goes from Grime influenced pop, to Electro pop, into House and ends up with Hip Hop. This is one of the best songs that you will hear all year, if not for Boots’ production alone.
“Heaven couldn’t wait for you
So go on, go home” – Beyoncé on “Heaven”
For much of the album there is a story is being told or conversation occuring between two songs, for example “Rocket” a slow jam follows “Jealous” – a song about the song about jealousy (surprise surprise). Another example is “Heaven” which touches on Beyoncé’s miscarriage and is deeply touching; while the following and final song of the album “Blue” is a song about Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s daughter Blue. A nice song to end an incredible album. That is something that runs through the album and helps to make it a cohesive body of work.
“Your love is bright as ever
Even in the shadows” – Beyoncé on “XO”
I am not a Beyoncé stan or fan, but this album is hard not to
like love! Beyoncé also released all of the album’s music videos at the same time as the album. You can watch them all as part of the package that is available on iTunes. It is refreshing to see an artist try to do something different with their music and it is even more encouraging when the artists is as big as Beyoncé. Whether it was a good commercial decision we will have to wait and see.
Beyoncé’s self titled album BEYONCE is out now on iTunes.
Previously: Album Review: Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP 2