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Beyoncé - Beyoncé Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 8.75
Musicianship 8.75
Lyrics 8.75
Production 8.75
Creativity 8.75
Lasting Value 8.75
Reviewer Tilt 8.75
Final Verdict: 88%
Member Ratings
Vocals 4.17
Musicianship 4.03
Lyrics 3.96
Production 4.15
Creativity 4.11
Lasting Value 4.12
Reviewer Tilt 3.85
Average: 41%
Inside AP.net

Beyoncé - Beyoncé

Reviewed by: Ryan Dennehy (12/16/13)
Beyoncé - Beyoncé
Release Date: December 13, 2013
Record Label: Columbia

Unmarred by “meltdown” controversies and boosted by the unworldly success of her singles, Beyoncé has unassumingly asserted her place at the pinnacle of pop. She’s largely alone in this - there aren’t many that have come after the Destiny’s Child heyday that have had to plug along in vocal competitions and the bizarrely condescending designation as “hip hop rappin.” Events under the auspices of Beyoncé can expect to be wild successes, whether that’s the populist Super Bowl or the Presidential inauguration. She’s ascended to a level of ubiquity not even her closest analogue can match and has done so without fuss, almost entirely on the strength of her vocal talents.

All of which makes the first song on Beyoncé, “Pretty Hurts,” a bit of a non-starter. Critiquing beauty standards is still an admirable perspective for the “world’s sexiest woman” to be advocating, but it doesn’t come close to what one would expect from Bey, it’s too safe at this point in her career. Worth noting however, is her claim that “This time I’m gonna take the crown without falling down,” the first of several “crown” related references that sprout throughout the album. So be thankful that the following “Haunted” more than compensates for “Hurts” tepid beginning. It’s marked by frank sexual desires matched with longing that may as well be loss, as ethereal echoes of her voice elevate it above just a post-Weeknd, dark update to staid topics. Elsewhere on the record, Beyoncé plunges into panted, gossamer whispers of seduction, relegating her bellowing voice to the atmosphere (“No Angel”) and trademark Timbaland production on the back half of “Blow.” On the latter, Bey wisely co-opts Timbaland himself to deliver a steamy hook that interlocks with her own vocals.

Once the album hits the grinding, Big Lebowski-sampling “Yonce/Partition,” she hits some kind of other-worldly groove. Somehow a cringeworthy line like “He Monica Lewinsky’d all over my gown” - dated, gross, and just poorly constructed - unlocks a candor that her pop compatriots would do well to take note of. Crass sexuality has it’s place, but Beyoncé recontextualizes it as a central facet of pop’s royal couple, a remarkable feat that might send unpredictable tremors through the sly, not-quite-overtly sexual charts. The instant meme of her “surfboard” wordplay on earlier track “Drunk In Love” meets its rival when she distills her Diva-ness into one line, singing “Driver roll up the partition, please/ I don't need you seeing 'Yonce on her knees.” Justin Timberlake brought his ornately retro music to the doorsteps of monogamous matrimony this year, but he’s never written a track as raunchy as “Rocket,” which starts off with Beyoncé singing “Let me sit this ass on you” and continues with “You rock hard/I rock steady.” Alluring sexiness has been the calling card of R&B for longer than Beyoncé has been a star, but rarely has it been connected to a person, not just the desire. That doesn’t prohibit the instances of sex here, but what’s most interesting is her calm assertion that he’ll rock steady till she reaches her “peak,” her “waterfall.” The focus on the satisfaction for both partners coming from a woman isn’t exactly common - male performers champion the orgasms of their partners as tokens of their virility, and women are almost always subservient to the needs of the man. Beyoncé is subverting and challenging our notions of sexual art even as she normalizes them just by being the cultural juggernaut that she is.

Riddled with corwrites and production credits, Beyoncé has assembled a who’s-who of modern chart dominance. She’s recalled longtime collaborator The-Dream to help on the triumphant, guaranteed hit “XO;” and first timers 40 and Drake to recall the clattering stick production of “Worst Behaviour” on a fuzzed out duet where Beyoncé slips lines like “I’m not feeling myself since the baby” in without making a fuss. These traces of postpartum depression or the interference of parental responsibility is, at least for the audience, overcome by Beyoncé’s insistence. Through self-confidence and attention paid by an intimate, Beyoncé is able to right herself and strike a balance that works for her on nearly every level, and to be frank, that unconditional love has to be reciprocated to explain Jay Z's odious verse on "Drunk." She should not be mistaken as being dependent on Jay for her own agency or success, though - this remains a personal triumph which no help from an outside source could fix unless deep reserves of personal strength already existed. Marriage has brought Jay and Bey immense success as a partnership, it would seem, not as the result of "girls being taught to aspire to marriage" as a way to satisfy the men in their life.

Often, bringing attention to cowriters is a way of denigrating and sneering at the pop artist, especially female ones; it’s a way of communicating that the real success still belongs to the men involved. Not so on Beyoncé. This is plainly Beyoncé’s most personal album yet, one forged in the fires of public miscarriages, a wrenching journey that does as much to combat this years Yeezus-led political misogyny as it complements with its own version of black empowerment and self-love, one that is staunchly, inclusively, womanist. Terius Nash couldn’t do this on his own, for all his pop chops, and neither could Timberlake, Miguel, or Aubrey. Chart-topping royalty in their own right, they’re gathered by the Queen so that they might effectively serve the two most important co-writes of the album: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Blue Ivy.

The former is the cornerstone of the explosive, commanding “***Flawless,” delivering a lecture about feminism in the crashing wake of Bey’s howling “Bow down bitches!” It’s the sole piece of music from the album that surfaced before release, as the mysterious “Bow Down/I Been On.” At the time it was an exhilarating song with bizarre sonic shifts and Beyoncé claiming Houston cred by referencing Pimp C and claiming “I ain’t need no hype.” The album version ditches the processed vocals of the “I Been On” half for Adichie’s speech and a new conclusion where Beyoncé appraises herself and finds she likes what she sees a hell of a lot. After the penultimate “Heaven” deals with the loss of an earlier pregnancy, daughter Blue Ivy makes her second ever recorded appearance on “Blue,” and what an experience it is. Piano led, mellow and introspective, Beyoncé expresses what many of our mothers have always told us: they love us more than they love our fathers, that we’re their entire world. It’s one thing to hear it from your own mother, but coming after the humanizing experience of love, sex, and flailing loss, it crescendos into the most affecting public expression of such that I’ve heard.

Why is Beyoncé the Queen? It’s not because she married into the family, nor is it because she was crowned by some invisible force and granted unassailable rights to rule. Nor is it solely because of her place among a dwindling number of stars who were granted their seat at the table through sheer vocal power, though that’s certainly a factor. Her place at the head is assured because her voice and stories on Beyoncé conveys a nearly-unrivaled sense of what makes us human. There’s room in that word for anilingus as well as deep-eyed devotion to your child. It takes someone with immense talent to bridge the gap between the two though, and there’s few who could be better suited to it than Beyoncé Knowles.

8.75/10
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 46
09:44 PM on 12/16/13
#2
Ryan Dennehy
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This is her best release by a wide margin and I wish I'd had the space to delve more fully into the production side of things, because I think a lot of it is really interesting and complements what's happening lyrically extemely well. Oh well. Come for the vocals, stay for 'em I suppose.

Also, no, "womanist" is not a typo or some kind of mistake. It's a school of thought which charges feminism with racist undertones, some of which are the acceptance of white beauty standards as the universal norm and they're tackled (effectively if predictably) on "Pretty Hurts," and elsewhere.
09:53 PM on 12/16/13
#3
surette
kill the switch
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you typed "flaweless" instead of flawless

great review. love this album.
09:54 PM on 12/16/13
#4
Ryan Dennehy
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you typed "flaweless" instead of flawless

great review. love this album.
good catch, fixed.

thanks bud <33
09:56 PM on 12/16/13
#5
Jeff_Ryan
easy come and easy go, whatever
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Really, really, really great write-up
10:01 PM on 12/16/13
#6
Ryan Dennehy
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Who ALREADY rated this and gave it a 4/10???
Really, really, really great write-up
Thank you so much
10:11 PM on 12/16/13
#7
irthesteve
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you typed "flaweless" instead of flawless

great review. love this album.
in his defense, there are no flawels either
10:58 PM on 12/16/13
#8
Sawhney[rusted]
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This is her best release by a wide margin and I wish I'd had the space to delve more fully into the production side of things, because I think a lot of it is really interesting and complements what's happening lyrically extemely well. Oh well. Come for the vocals, stay for 'em I suppose.

Also, no, "womanist" is not a typo or some kind of mistake. It's a school of thought which charges feminism with racist undertones, some of which are the acceptance of white beauty standards as the universal norm and they're tackled (effectively if predictably) on "Pretty Hurts," and elsewhere.
I have to say, the production on this album is some of my favorite for a pop release this year. It's sooooooo....crisp I guess the word is? Also, I'm so happy that Bey was able to provide an non-compromised vision for this project. It's seriously amazing.

What are your views on the videos btw? She makes a point that the album is supposed to be an "experience", and the videos are a part of that experience.
11:01 PM on 12/16/13
#9
lightcollapse
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I give this a solid 6
11:04 PM on 12/16/13
ALT/MSC/FAN
Everything's Coming Up Milhouse
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I can't wait to get paid on Friday to pick this up. I haven't heard a bad thing about the record yet.
11:07 PM on 12/16/13
RonStoppable
yeezy season approachin
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best writeup i've read on the album

(the only one too. but the bar is set high)
02:03 AM on 12/17/13
evilandgood
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LOVE this album. I wished you had gone into the production side of things, because I really loved the work Boots did on songs like "Haunted" and "Blue." I've always wanted to hear Beyonce over music like that, which was kind of hinted at on "4" ("I Miss You" being an example), but I'm glad it was maximized on this record. She sounds great.
03:30 AM on 12/17/13
Chris Collum
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Ace review bud
04:22 AM on 12/17/13
The_Effort
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Great review! Can't wait to pick this up.
06:15 AM on 12/17/13
Ryan Dennehy
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I have to say, the production on this album is some of my favorite for a pop release this year. It's sooooooo....crisp I guess the word is? Also, I'm so happy that Bey was able to provide an non-compromised vision for this project. It's seriously amazing.

What are your views on the videos btw? She makes a point that the album is supposed to be an "experience", and the videos are a part of that experience.
I actually haven't watched all of them. I've seen the Drunk in love video but unfortunately I haven't made the leap to buy the iTunes album so I have to wait until they're all on YouTube.
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