Beyoncé Album Review
So I've written to Websters, Oxford and Collins. The deed is done. This time next year when you flick through 'A' in your brand new dictionary and arrive at 'artist' a stylized black and white picture of Beyoncé will pop up, providing the quintessential visual representation of a word that is dangerously overused and under-appreciated. Beyonce may be many, many things. She is the Queen of pop, undisputed. She is a mother, a wife, an icon, a star, a bankable entity, and the reason why I feel inadequate as a person. Most of all, she is the consumate artist; she expresses herself and her vision through the medium of song and dance. And she does a damn fine job of it.
Ok, so that is out of the way. Now on to the music. Beyoncé dropped this record with absolutely no press. I mean nothing. In a world where Shane Warne is taking selfies of his nipples and Azealia Banks tweets incessantly at anyone who will give her 30 second of their time, for a pop star to go promo-less is baffling. She offers a slight insight as she closes out Ghost, 'Soul not for sale. Probably won't make no money off this, oh well. Reap what you sow, perfection is so, mmm'. I would wager Yoncé probably knew she'd make a bit of coin out of this. In fact, it sold through the nose. 617,000 digital copies in 3 days, with no promotion, and no physical copy. Itunes had a freaking field day, and Apple-haters cursed her blessed soul.
Beyoncé is a a natural progression. First off, it feels more pure and organic than anything she has written previously. From Dangerously In Love up to I Am... the moniker of female pop vocalist was heavily mined. Singles were rife, numbers were mammoth and guest spots and writing credits were provided by the same kind of handlers who are reknowned for shaping pop careers: Pharell, Swizz Beatz, Scott Storch and Jay-Z. These weren't contrived records, they were simply time pieces. If you can do something and sell 11 million copies of it, do it.
But Beyoncé has never been one to dawdle too long in a lane. Even through I Am... Sasha Fierce there were signs of experimentation. It wasn't until 4 that this was blown wide open. Tracks like Run The World (Girls), Countdown, End of Time and Love On Top displayed a desire to branch, to explore her neo-soul roots that her sister so wonderfully continues to portray. This sound hasn't been carried over to Beyoncé, yet the mindset has. There are singles abound, however none of them feel like radio-ready monsters. On Magna Carta Holy Grail she appeared on Part II (On The Run) with Jay-Z, and it was as cynical as anything Rhianna and Eminem have done. Beyoncé houses Drunk In Love, in its own right an absolute stomping single, but something that feels pure and thrown together, that feels true.
She has created such fierce and yet divergent personas it's difficult to believe how she can inhabit them all at once. On Partition, she raps 'Driver, roll up the partition, please/I don't need you seeing 'Yoncé on her knees' before detailing in depth a submissive sexual exploit in the back of her ('Hand and footprints all on my glass') Maybach. The album is littered with this kind of sexual exploitation of herself, in a similar way that Rhianna or Ciara would speak. 'I c wait 'til I get home so you can tear that cherry out / Turn that cherry out, turn that cherry out', 'I do it like it's my profession, I gotta make a confession / I'm proud of all this bass, when you put it in your face', 'I can't help but love the way we make love / Daddy, daddy'. It's what we've come to expect from modern pop stars, but less so Beyoncé, a woman who has driven a flag in to a male dominated world. Her essay for The Shriver Report on the fallacy and pipe dream that is gender equality links up with this, but is still at odds with the rest of her work. Whilst in one moment she is performing almost as a sexual slave, the next she is exuding power and force over her male counterparts, in both the bedroom and the boardroom. On Rocket she commands 'Hell yeah you the shit / That's why you're my equivalent' and on the collab with Drake, Mine, she plays both the aggressor and the regressor, admitting her jealousy and her womanly worries about the future and coming on too strong, before throwing them out and demanding 'Stop making a big deal out of the little things / Cause I got big deals and I got little things / Got everything I'm asking for but you'.
The only way I can describe her random lurches from freaky gutter girl to pomp princess to devoted wife to devlish lover is these are all facets of her personality, and by pursuing a less intense recording and writing process she has allowed all of them room to breathe. Beyonce is a Lioness. One who is fierce, aggressive, obsessively protective of her young (Blue is one of the most beautiful love songs of this century), and one who is hopelessly in love. All throughout the record her devotion to her husband and her daughter isn't just stated, it's blared, trumpeted, worn as a badge of honour and a challenge to anyone who may see a chance to get in the way of that. Jealous throws this back and forth straight at her audience, as she barrels around her own psyche bouncing off walls wondering where her man is, 'I'm in my penthouse half-naked / I cooked this meal for you naked / So where the hell you at' before obliterating her self doubt, 'Yoncé fillin' out this skirt / I look damn good, I ain't lost it'.
Whilst it isn't shoved down our throats like it would be in a Disney movie, love is always the underlying theme. I keep using Partition as an example, but despite her detailing a variety of things that a cheap hooker would do, 'He popped all my buttons, and he ripped my blouse / He Monica Lewinsky-ed all on my gown', she never once sounds cheap and taudry. She is just explaining, in rather graphic detail, her sex life with her husband. There was a documentary that came out with the record, of course, and in it she talks quite profoundly about her creative process. In the past she has sought perfection in her work, yet when approaching this project spontaneity was prized, allowing people to express themselves in the moment and by capturing this a true picture could be painted. So many artists have attempted this kind of approach, and so often it has backfired dramatically as things come out completely unfocused and driven by such a dividing range of factors that there is no theme, no coherence. That's what makes this record special. She isn't trying to reinvent a genre or tap a new vein, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Mary J Blige and even her sister Solange have persistently taken risks and pushed boundaries that Beyonce will probably never take. But she took this one, and through her supreme talent and strength of feeling meant that it paid off.
Recently I read an article on 2013 by a local magazine editor who described his least favourite part of the previous year to be the steady race to the middle from acts like GaGa, Perry and Spears. I even wrote this piece. I would retract it now. Beyonce isn't even in the same category anymore. She is not a female pop vocalist. She is a true musical artist.
Best Tracks: Drunk In Love, Partition, XO