BeyoncÃ© surprised fans early this morning by releasing an entirely new studio album available exclusively via iTunes with no advance warning or promotion. Titled â€œBeyoncÃ©,â€ with a simple cover of black with her name written across the center in pink, itâ€™s an edgy collection of pop & R&B with a plethora of A-list guest artists including her husband Jay Z, former Destinyâ€™s Child colleagues Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, in addition to Justin Timberlake, Frank Ocean, Drake and Pharrell Williams.Â
The 14-song collection shows the sexier and edgier side of BeyoncÃ©. Six of the songs are marked with the â€œexplicitâ€ label, unusual for an artist who usually appeals to a broader audience. The first impulse is to think she may be trying to out-sex the younger pop-tarts currently ruling the charts, but that would be a completely erroneous assumption. â€œBeyoncÃ©â€ is a mature collection of strong songwriting and production, and she delivers her finest vocal peformances to date.
On album opener â€œPretty Hurtsâ€ she begins with a simple statement of her aspiration in life: â€œto be happy.â€ â€œPretty Hurtsâ€ is one of the more commercial-sounding tracks on the collection, with a soaring chorus that effectively reminds us just what a great vocalist BeyoncÃ© really is.
â€œHauntedâ€ is a long, complex track with an edgy, hypnotic minimalist beat with BeyoncÃ© alternating between breathless spoken-word verses to a darkly melodic chorus.Â The song builds in emotion and intensity as it goes, and ultimately is quite a powerful piece — a definite high point on the album. â€œDrunk in Loveâ€ is another funky track with a hard-edged electronic beat, with a rap segment by Jay Z and a powerful, intense vocal delivery by BeyoncÃ©.
â€œBlowâ€ is a sexy track, with an effective call and response vocal structure and a nice old-school R&B flavor. Itâ€™s one of the few tracks on â€œBeyoncÃ©â€ that sounds like it might have worked on her previous albums, and a track that radio should embrace. The ultra funky â€œPartition,â€ with another minimalist rhythm and a wonderfully slippery bass-line, feature a very un- BeyoncÃ©-like Â half-spoken vocal performance. â€œPartitionâ€ is edgy, unusually structured, and creative.
â€œJealousâ€ is a wonderfully melodic track, with BeyoncÃ© dipping into her lower register during the excellent chorus. Like all the rest of the album, the production and arrangement is stellar.Â Another high point. â€œRocketâ€ is an old-school R&B ballad with a sensual, swinging beat and another great vocal arrangement. â€œMine,â€ featuring a guest spot by rapper Drake, is a hypnotic mid-tempo number that once again surprises with an unpredictable structure.
â€œXOâ€ has an up-tempo, rock vibe that brings a nice change of pace after the long, generally mellow â€œMine.â€ â€œFlawless,â€ with its refrain of â€œbow down bitches,â€ is a powerful statement of empowerment with a killer beat. The ballad â€œSuperpower,â€ featuring Frank Ocean, is yet another winner. BeyoncÃ© vocal performance is nuanced and strong, and once again the arrangement is incredibly effective. Oceanâ€™s voice complements BeyoncÃ©â€™s with perfection, so much so that the only regret is that they donâ€™t harmonize more on the song.Â
â€œHeavenâ€ is the albumâ€™s big ballad, and itâ€™s a sad one.Â â€œI just canâ€™t stand to see you leaving, but heaven couldnâ€™t wait for youâ€ BeyoncÃ© sings in a deep, beautiful voice above a gorgeous piano. â€œHeavenâ€ is far more substantial than the typical pop ballad tailor-made for radio. She is able to convey powerful emotion with a rather simple song. A stunner of a track.
Like the sunrise breaking through the dark skies, she follows the emotional â€œHeavenâ€ with the joyful â€œBlue,â€ a breezy, lovely ode to her daughter, featuring a snippet of vocal from Blue Ivy herself. Itâ€™s a great way to end the album. Â
â€œBeyoncÃ©â€ sounds like a declaration of independence of sorts. Itâ€™s a personal statement as much as it is an album. BeyoncÃ© has been through the music industry machine for years, first as a member of Desintyâ€™s Child, then as a solo artist. Sheâ€™s had years of being told what to do by managers, producers, and record company executives. â€œBeyoncÃ©â€ feels like a personal album and a statement that sheâ€™s no longer going to play the game as itâ€™s usually played, and perhaps the unusual method of its release, with no prior buildup, hype or warning, is part of that. While itâ€™s undeniably far different than anything sheâ€™s done in the past, it feels genuine and liberating; a surprise release, but a very pleasant one. There are no typical pop songs on this album — everything on it follows an unexpected path which keeps the listener intrigued. Itâ€™s loaded with sensuality, both lyrically and musically. Itâ€™s an adult album: sexy, smart, and well-conceived. â€œBeyoncÃ©â€ is a bomb dropped on the music industry late in the year, and a powerful one at that.Â Sheâ€™s delivered a killer album and shows once again why she is one of the great pop artists of the last nearly-20 years. Consider â€œBeyoncÃ©â€ an honorary mention addition to the Top 30 Albums of 2013.Â