Beyonce
Beyonce


4.5
superb

Review

by Conrad Tao EMERITUS
January 4th, 2014 | 345 replies | 20,303 views


Release Date: 12/13/2013 | Tracklist

Review Summary: hold on to me

when beyoncé unexpectedly releases a "personal album" in a year filled with questionable stabs at confessional records, what does it mean? when said album is an "immersive experience" comprising seventeen music videos, what does it mean? does it mean that she has succumbed to the myopic self-centeredness of unthinkably huge celebrity that her strange, solipsistic HBO special hinted at? does it mean that the so-called "immersive album" is going to be the future of popular music? does it mean that beyoncé is taking the spotlight away from independent artists who have been spontaneously releasing music onto soundcloud and bandcamp for years?

nah! it means that beyoncé released a record that feels truly personal and vulnerable. it means that beyoncé collaborated with a large cadre of directors to create a body of work that is visually stunning and emotionally resonant. beyoncé is really fucking good, and while that's not "all that matters" -- that statement is nearly always a gross oversimplification -- it is what makes constantly returning to this curious album enjoyable and rewarding. the record sounds incredible, its amalgamation of styles impressively convincing. there's an alluring, cool sheen to this whole work that renders it effortlessly cohesive. but compartmentalize each song, and a whole collection of sounds reveals itself, its sum often less satisfying than the final mix. "pretty hurts" is the motivational pop that sia has been writing for years now -- and which has become rather rote at this point (mega-hits like "titanium" notwithstanding...or are they emblematic of that tiredness?) -- but the song's production flourishes create nuance amid the bombast. "it's the soul that needs a surgery," beyoncé sings, further evincing her ability to take potentially trite lyrics and turn them into something affirming and/or beautiful. even ryan tedder's usual schlock is elevated in "xo" by a gorgeously imperfect vocal, cracks and gasps intact.

are these superficially "human" touches just window-dressing, carefully calibrated moments to make us, the audience, feel as if we are being honestly spoken to? maybe. if so, they're masterfully effective. the one-two punch of "heaven" and "blue" that ends the album is hugely cathartic, like an extended and necessary epilogue after the playful ferocity of "***flawless". following an acceptance of death with a celebration of life isn't innovative so much as logically powerful. it's rebirth after the colorful, multifaceted, complex life that was weaved in great detail before, a life of privilege ("haunted" is a welcome navigation of this) as well as the requisite career hard knocks (the aforementioned "***flawless" and "pretty hurts"). also: a life of really great sex.

that sexuality! it's messy, it's funny, it's hot as hell. "partition", "drunk in love", "blow", and "rocket" are all endlessly quotable -- and the internet has truly seen this to exhausted completion -- but they're hardly just sultry meme factories. (although "surfboard" certainly comes close to being one.) they're real! they feel so real! oh, sure, they read fantastically -- skittles, cherries, monica lewinsky, ...ass -- but they feel grounded and deeply felt. "partition" and "rocket", in particular, feel almost liberatory, in their luxuriance and luxuriousness. throughout, there's a mood of liberating honesty here that can be indelible and borderline uncomfortable in the same moment. "mine" is probably as exposed and honest as beyoncé has ever been on record; its delicate opening section is nothing short of sublime. the song hinges on knowing "who you belong to" -- "you're mine, all mine" -- presented simultaneously as an inevitability, a power play, a generous gesture of love.

indeed, at its dizzying zenith, beyoncé is a loaded fusion of generosity and self-empowerment. or perhaps, more accurately, it finds self-empowerment in generosity. the video to "superpower", one of the many songs on this album that rewards repeated and close listening, is an understatedly moving enigma that imbues its simple refrains with stirring complexity. it's an endlessly attractive idea: "a subtle power / a tough love", as a unifying and collective force. love that extends from beyoncé to her partner, to destiny's child, to her collaborators, and maybe, just maybe, to her audience. it's absolutely romantic, maybe even simplistic, but never, ever naïve. she's been. as it goes: "i thought the world would revolve / without us, without us, without us / but nothing i know could slow us down / couldn't slow us down."



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Comments:Add a Comment 
conradtao
Emeritus
January 4th 2014



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

hi

there

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
January 4th 2014



49788 Comments


I refuse to believe a Beyonce album is good

Digging: Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) - You Will Eventually Be Forgotten

conradtao
Emeritus
January 4th 2014



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

you are the worst type of person tbh

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
January 4th 2014



49788 Comments


Her highest rated album before this has a 3.1 so I don't see why that's unreasonable


conradtao
Emeritus
January 4th 2014



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

you are the worst type of person tbh [2]

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
January 4th 2014



49788 Comments


Single Ladies is one of the worst songs of all time sooooo

oltnabrick
January 4th 2014



30131 Comments


um wow.




but ye this is great

Digging: Wretched Excess - Away From This World

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
January 4th 2014



49788 Comments


I'll take your word for it



breakingthefragile
January 4th 2014



2943 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Taking Sputnik averages seriously.

Digging: Glassjaw - Everything You Ever Wanted To Know...

Chrisjon89
January 4th 2014



3362 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

good review. album is fantastic. listen to Haunted if it's on YouTube Trebor. or Ghost as well if they're separate.

Digging: Ichiko Aoba - 0%

plane
Staff Reviewer
January 4th 2014



6085 Comments


you are the worst type of person tbh [3]

fromtheinside
January 4th 2014



17714 Comments


lewis i don't really get how you music, it seems like you're always trying to find gold

Digging: Fallujah - The Flesh Prevails

greg84
Staff Reviewer
January 4th 2014



7312 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

this is surprsingly great

cool review

Digging: Dog Fashion Disco - Sweet Nothings

fromtheinside
January 4th 2014



17714 Comments


lol, look who tao lost with the tracd

plane
Staff Reviewer
January 4th 2014



6085 Comments


[...]

tempest--
January 4th 2014



12599 Comments


r.i.p. conrad's shift key

demigod!
January 4th 2014



43846 Comments


yea seriously get your shift key back, it's so annoying/distracting to read with only lower case

which is a shame cause it's a really great review. probably not gonna listen to this but it does sound a bit interesting.

Digging: Black Flag - My War

SgtPepper
Staff Reviewer
January 4th 2014



4380 Comments


Great review. Everyone seems to be raving about this. I'm convinced I need to check it out. I've only heard a small handful of Beyonce songs, but she has a knack for putting out fun stuff so I'm sure it'll be entertaining.

greg84
Staff Reviewer
January 4th 2014



7312 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

This is way more consistent than her previous LPs. The first half of this is especially great. Blow is such a sexy tune. Haunted, No Angel, Partition and Superpower also rule.

ShitsofRain
January 4th 2014



5574 Comments


this is important

Digging: Ben Sims - Fabric 73



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