Beyonce doesn’t single-handedly save all of 2013, but her ambitious self-titled shocker puts an exciting exclamation point on the end of a lackluster year in music.
Consider: It’s been a year when relatively minor indiscretions by Miley Cyrus were all anyone could talk about, a year when hyped-to-the-hilt releases by the likes of Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga failed to deliver, a year when Lorde’s “Royals” was No. 1 for nine straight weeks, virtually by default. Just look at the depressing list of Grammy nominees, filled with songs and albums and artists most of us will have forgotten by the middle of 2014.
But now here’s Beyonce (whose husband, Jay Z, dropped one of the year’s disappointments), unleashing “Beyonce” in a surprise attack with no advance promotion, a wholly realized album accompanied by a full complement of videos. It’s contemporary but pioneering, accessible but risky as her sound is steeped in electronica that’s not obviously formulaic.
It’s also a statement album – sexy, feminist, reflective – a convincing glimpse at the seemingly “real” Beyonce. Although she sings about being beautiful (“Pretty Hurts”) and her unconditional love for her husband and child (“Drunk in Love,” “Blue”), she’s not rubbing her wonderful life in the faces of her fans. There’s an edge in that gorgeous voice, exploited by producers such as Pharrell Williams and Timbaland and aided by guest vocalists such as Drake and Frank Ocean.
She makes it clear she’s not just Jay Z’s wife in the fidgety “Flawless,” the lulling love anthem “XO” stands in the shadow of the ticking clock of life, and the weighty “Heaven” is the funeral song of the century (so far): “Heaven couldn’t wait for you, so go on, go home.” Then there’s her “Jealous” complaint, “I’m in my penthouse half naked … So where the hell you at?”
Yet she’s getting plenty of sex elsewhere, especially in the seductive smolder of “No Angel,” the hyper-sensual soul of “Rocket” and the reverberating lust-in-the-limo setting of “Partition” (“Handprints and footprints on my glass … We ain’t even gonna make it to this club”).
Whatever the context, Beyonce sells it with refreshing believability that others lacked this year.
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of five)
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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