Oh my goodness where to begin. I would argue there is no other musician in the wold today who can release an album under the radar without any marketing what-so-ever and almost bring iTunes to its knees as it struggles to cope with the rush of downloads. Also, I wonder when on earth Beyoncé managed to find the time to record her surprise self-titled fifth album while touring the world, raising a child and generally be able to be absolutely flawless in the process. It’s the kind of super human stuff we have come to expect from Beyoncé’s immaculate career.
Heavily produced by the virtually unknown Boots (who is signed to Jay Z‘s Roc Nation) it’s a classic R&B record; a little sexy, a little emotive, and fully Beyoncé. Alongside the album, Beyoncé is also releasing seventeen accompanying music videos, dubbed the ‘Visual’ album. It’s a whole lot for Beyoncé fans to take in in one go. In my case Christmas has definitely come early. Where tracks like Freakum Dress, Run The World and the ever favourite Single Ladies were up tempo, dance club gold, the majority of the surprise release is a little more soulful, with lots of slow grooves and minimalist beats. With cameos from husband Jay Z, Pharrell, Frank Ocean and Drake just to name a few, it’s incredible that this has remained quite so secret.
Pretty Hurt opens the record with a quote from a beauty pageant where ‘Miss Third Ward’ (a reference to Beyoncé’s hometown of Houston) states her aspiration in life is to be happy. The song is a powerful ballad critiquing beauty standards which has a production value reminiscent of Halo. It’s a strong and poignant opening track which glides into Haunted; which is exactly that, haunting, and a highlight of the album. A minimalist bass line and ghostly vocal effects layer the chorus while Beyoncé raps, sings and chants, and she means business, throwing shade to the record labels and gender based industry inequality alike.
The provocative Blow and Partition prove that Beyoncé can still get down and dirty with the rest of them, while the sultry and somewhat agitated Jealous is reminiscent of the injustices echoed in If I Were A Boy. ***Flawless is 100% Sasha Fierce ferocity, but it is also so much more. It’s a full power, engines on, straight talking song of solidarity, calling out patriarchal rhetoric with the help of Nigerian feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose extract from her TEDx talk on feminism half way through is the highlight. It’s a pulsating and empowering track, andIf I had to pick one song to release as a single, it would hope it would be ***Flawless.
The album closes with two gorgeously produced piano ballads. Heaven is a soft and compassionate ballad about lost love and heartbreak, and the albums final track Blue (which features Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy) is a song expressing her love for her child with lots of endearing giggling and floaty vocals. In a way the subject matter is a little indulgent but it is an undeniably lovely song and as it’s Beyoncé I will let her get away with it.
The self titled surprise release is not the hit machine we have come to expect from Beyoncé’s music to date, but that is not the point of the release at all. The point of this is Beyoncé doesn’t want the hype, she wanted to release the album as a body of work which represents, well, Beyoncé – fourteen songs released at once. “It’s all about the single and the hype, it’s so much that gets between the music and the artist and the fans” she quotes, and I have so much respect for for doing this. Where so many musicians flippantly quote that they did it ‘for the fans,’ in Beyoncé’s case it feels pretty legit. Maybe I am just biased, and want to believe that Beyoncé can do no wrong, but the amount of work which has gone into the record, all to be released all at once feels like a very genuine attempt at doing it ‘for the fans’. The album itself is an honest, open and brilliant body of work, perfectly timed and expertly executed.
Bow down, b*tches.