That was our first thought when we woke up this morning. No single teases, no publicity gimmicks, no media hoopla or review deadlines (that last one we think she’s done for us blogs, cheers pal), just 14 songs and 17 videos with a single name as an album cover. Admittedly, given our general disappointment in Queen Bey – despite loving her live show – and seeing as though we’ve pretty much dispensed with our Best Albums and Singles lists for 2013, we didn’t think there’d be room for one more colossal release in the schedule. And despite what this cool exterior might betray, we can’t quite believe we’re reviewing a new Beyoncé ‘visual album’ today (and we guarantee it’s this precise feeling of unfettered joy that Beyoncé is revelling in today. Because she’s a saint. Obviously).
But we’re going to try to be objective. A Beyoncé album is a landmark after all, and it’s been bloody ages since 4. The opening signs are pretty damn strong, and Sia’s influence is all over the chorus of Pretty Hurts. It reminds us just how strong a role model Mrs Carter (even with married name) can be while churning out a banging tune. But just as you think it might be empowering ballads, Haunted has Bey at her most experimental: laying down some spoken-word with one of the most thumping choruses she’s ever delivered (imagine the dance routine to that on tour), switching up tempo and style in six minutes the way none of her peers can. It’s one of our favourites on BEYONCÉ.
Where 4 was Beyoncé in love, BEYONCÉ feels like Bey’s post-marriage transformation; this isn’t a pop album, more a continuation of the course for 2013 R&B, started by sister Solange. It’s incredibly telling for her musical direction that this year the only song chose to give us herself was Bow Down, while Grown Woman and Standing on the Sun were for corporations. Therefore Drunk in Love has the darkest beat Bey’s ever wrestled with, pop-trap if you will, throwing in some rap of her own before Mr Carter takes over. No Angel is something you’d expect to here from an upcoming alternative R&B act, husky and effortlessly sensual. And Flawless is just that. Further proof? The Drake and Frank Ocean collaborations, and “Yoncé all on his mouth like liquor”, over and over again on Yoncé/Partition. Tell that to B’Day.
But it wouldn’t be a Beyoncé album without a bit of that sweet sugar: Blow is straight-up Motown vibing (though we’re not sure how we feel about ‘turning that cherry out’), Rocket is pretty standard R&B, XO brings back Ryan Tedder, and Jealous is the closest you’ll get to old Beyoncé balladry. Though they’re not bad songs at all, ironically the sort of music she’s known for is where she sounds weakest (certainly in the context of the rest of this album). No surprise: Blow and Rocket boast writing credits from one Justin Timberlake, and we all know how that’s turned out recently.
And of course, given it’s a ‘visual album’, the videos are spectacular for the most part. While we’d have liked Drunk in Love to be less Rihanna, we’d happily sit through all 17 videos as one long cinematic experience (even Grown Woman gets a clever little package).
Then again, you’d expect nothing less from Queen Bey. Screw it, objectivity can go take a walk for once: IT’S A BEYONCÉ ALBUM. ERGO, IT IS BRILLIANT. They say that you have to go through hardship and struggle to appreciate the good times; BEYONCÉ might seem sweeter to us through that rose tint, but it’s clear that she’s her own driving force and super-savvy about what’s hot on the blogs. No label would assent to releasing a fifth album that’s bang on-trend for modern alternative R&B – this is progression for Beyoncé as an artist, showing her willingness to take risks and reinvent the whole damn game in the process. Bow down, bitches.