Beyonce ‘Beyonce’ – Review

2 Feb

Beyonce has been on a journey with a classic narrative. A young, good looking girl from out in the sticks forms a girl group, managed by her father, that become massive. The girl successfully embarks on a solo carer, marries an equally famous husband, has a baby, lives happily every after.This is basically what Beyonce’s last album, ‘4’ preached about; at times her life sounded so perfect and happy it was if she was almost mocking the listener – ‘Look at how great my life is!’ There is no doubt that ‘4’ was the climax of that narrative and it’s the job of the follow up to swipe the table cloth from under the plates. Beyonce is where Madonna was before ‘Sex’, or where Prince was before he became ‘The Artist Formally Known as Prince’. Whereas those legends reinvented themselves with new personas, Beyonce has self-titled this album, and seems to be saying ‘this is who I’ve always been underneath.’ This is a brave move because there is no running away from this ‘reinvention’. It’s got her name right there in the middle of it. A lot rests on ‘Beyonce’.

unfortunately it disappoints on a truely gigantic level, because underneath the level-headed, hard-working, likeable role model we’ve come to know, there is a  cocky, needy, sex maniac who rises to the surface. On the opener, ‘Pretty Hurts’ Beyonce sets up a legitimate if unoriginal premise that the world is obsessed with aesthetic and surface. Which would be fine if ‘Beyonce’ (both the album and the lady herself) wasn’t all surface in 2014. ‘Perfection is a disease of a nation’ Bey spits in the most luxurious of voices. ‘It’s the soul that needs the surgery’ she adds, while looking unattainably beautiful in the glamorous video. This is a visual album, released with a dvd of music videos (a curiously old-fashioned idea – even more so considering the exciting and unexpected way this album has been unveiled) and everything about it speaks to that visual identity Beyonce has carefully constructed, and then deconstructed. Doting wife? watch her wrap her legs around a pole in the video for ‘Blow’. Dignified mother? Hear her swear throughout the album. I suppose there is no real reason why Beyonce should be restricted from doing whatever she wants, it’s just a strange and unnecessary path to venture down at this late(ish) stage in her career. And I’d always had Beyonce pegged as a 21st century feminist icon, but this demonstrates that she is far from it. Like Miley Cyrus and Rihanna before her, Beyonce has fully succumbed to the idea that women need to strip half naked and flirt their way to the number one spot.

Of course, a modern interpretation of feminism is that women should embrace their sexuality and flaunt it if they want – but I’m not convinced of her motives here. In fact, I’m rather surprised at all the glowing reviews ‘Beyoncé’ has received, particularly from those feminist critics proclaiming it to be a poetic and proud statement of confident sexuality when it clearly isn’t. A line like ‘I cooked this meal for you naked’ is neither poetic or self-assured. Subservient wife still be cooking the meals. Naked. For her husband. And I mean, you could argue that if she wants to cook a meal naked for her husband that doesn’t necessarily degrade her or make her any less of a feminist – but I still don’t want to hear about it. Who does? But when she says ‘bow down bitches’ I’m afraid that does make her less of a feminist; it also makes her a shocking role model, a terrible lyrist and frankly a bit of a dodgy human being.

The single, ‘Drunk in Love’, probably the catchiest thing on here (which isn’t really saying much), is a song that tries very hard to be sexy and fails miserably. It’s a disturbing tale of confusion, spelt out through a serious of unaware contradictions. ‘I get filthy when that liquor get in me’ Bey says with seemingly no self-awareness at all – is this meant to be a come on? A metaphor? It’s a weak one if it is. ‘Why can’t I keep my fingers off it,’ she says, which seems a troubling admission in a song probably about sexual addiction rather than alcohol addiction – but still. ‘Feeling like an animal with all these cameras on my grill’ she purrs (she’s still got a great voice to be fair), convincing no-one that ‘grill’ is a part of her natural vocabulary – she barely builds up the enthusiasm to snarl it and indeed nothing about this album seems natural or enthusiastic, save for some tender moments towards the end. When she sings ‘Can’t keep your eyes off my fatty’ this confidence (or arrogance if you want) isn’t CONFIDENT in the same way that ‘Single Ladies’ or ‘Best thing you never had’ were. In fact, it can’t even muster the same swagger as ‘Girls (run the world)’, a relatively forgettable Beyonce single. All this talk of ‘rubbing’ and ‘grinding’ lends the song a certain raunchiness but Beyonce will never convince me that she’s prince when she’s spent so long trying to convince me she’s a princess.

Elsewhere, Beyonce ‘the feminist Icon’ seems to have forgotten just who is in control. On ‘Blow’ she ‘must be good to you’ whilst elsewhere on the self-hating track she sings ‘Baby put your arms on me, tell me I’m the problem’. One minute she lacks confidence, the next minute she’s manufacturing it in all the wrong ways. It’s a distressingly lost album from someone who until this point seemed so in control. Listen to ‘Single Ladies’ or ‘Surviver’ again if you want a reminder of how this act should work.

If I didn’t have such concerns about the lyrical content then I think I would rather like ‘Beyonce’, although I would still find it a little snoozy. The beats (provided mostly by the talented young producer Boots) are taught and luxurious, like a more finely tuned take on what The Weeknd has been doing in recent years. Whereas some recent Beyonce songs, particularly the singles, have been aggressive, these tracks are impressively chilled out. Baselines hover almost casually, synths glide in and out of focus and the vocals become the central focus. It turns out I rather like this minimalist side of Beyonce. Structurally though the record is rather messy because of all the directionless songs that kind of glide in several directions before doing 180 flips. It does all add up to a rather disorienting album. Over the course of an hour I lost interest, and it lost direction. That kind of sums up the entire album for me – I genuinely think Beyonce has lost her way. This is a statement album that lacks a meaningful statement; and I respect the fact that she’s playing with fire but I’m afraid she’s been burnt.

3.5/10

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