Alright, I'm all for innovation in the music industry and women as the source of that innovation, but there is something about Beyoncé's impromptu new album/"visual experience" that doesn't make me feel quite right. There is something undeniably conceited and unnecessarily grandiose about the entire spectacle. Released on iTunes without warning (fuck Spotify, this is a classy affair), the reviews for Beyoncé's album have been unanimously positive. Let me emphasize that the acclaim is not unjust, it is a unique concept in the current musical climate, and one that B is fine admitting she grafted from Michael Jackson's "Thriller."
"Pretty Hurts" is essentially TLC's "Unpretty" reimagined. Opening with a beauty pageant announcer asking, "What is your aspiration in life?" Beyoncé responds, "My aspiration is to be happy." It's probable that she has achieved that goal, which is why it seems appropriate that she would single out the beauty and fashion world as a source of pain and irritation being that there's nothing else for her to complain about. For her to lament about how it doesn't matter what's in your head doesn't seem to ring true, especially when envisioning a smash cut to all the glossy magazine covers she's graced. She is, in fact, a go-to source for women to compare and feel bad about themselves.
"Haunted" is, vocally, a departure from the tone Beyoncé usually takes, and, for the most part shows how her problems are increasingly unrelatable to "the common man" as she sings about her issues with record labels and how normal people have to "work 9 to 5 just to stay alive." There's no real message behind the song, save for "soul not for sale/probably won't make no money off this/oh well." Okay B, I'm sure Columbia Records would take this giant risk releasing an album that you haven't even promoted if they didn't expect you to make money from it.
"Drunk in Love" is an extremely uncomfortable song about how Jay-Z and Beyoncé have great sex and crave each other to the point of cannibalism. Jay-Z's rap sounds like it may have been put together in five minutes and includes complaints about how he ruined his Warhol while boning in the foyer. It is in no way a fitting homage to "Crazy in Love."
"Blow" (sorry Ke$ha, you no longer have the monopoly on the song title) is a funk-laden track with whispery-sounding vocals that dichotomously negate Beyoncé's occasional sense of female empowerment with lyrics like, "Ima let you be the boss of me." Echoing the vibe of Thriller, the song was produced by Pharrell Williams and Timbaland, thus, it makes sense that this would be chosen as one of the lead singles in promotion of the album.
"No Angel" is perhaps the most annoying song on the album, with quintessential Beyoncé moaning as she says salacious things against a subtly aggressive beat and utters pandering sentences like, "Baby, whatever you want." Following is "Partition," a standout track with echoes of I Am... Sasha Fierce-era Beyoncé. It is one of the few songs that exudes any true confidence from the woman who once sang an anthem called "Independent Woman."
"Jealous" presents another issue with coming across as genuine. Knowing Beyoncé's blissful state of marriage, a song centered around being a jilted lover is almost as incongruous as Ke$ha singing about matrimony. Absurd lyrics such as "I cooked this meal for you naked/So where the hell you at?" and "I look damn good/I ain't lost it" also serve to make matters worse.
"Rocket" is another Timbaland-produced track with a soulful tinge. It continues the mixed message style that has pervaded much of B's later career as she vacillates between being an unstoppable tour de force and a needy, sexed up doll--the latter of which is proved by the sentiment, "Let me sit this ass on you/Show you how I feel."
Drake breaks up the Beyoncé-centricness on "Mine." Initially, "Mine" is a slow, laidback track that allows Beyoncé to showcase her vocal talent with ease. Drake picks up the beat with the distinct chant, "This is a song for the good girl." As one of the longest songs on the album, it is in keeping with Beyoncé's intent behind the record, which is to force people to take the time to appreciate the music (though it will inevitably be edited in length when it makes it to the radio).
"XO" is a mid-tempo song that continues the stint of goodness present on "Mine." The lyrical content is forgettable, but B's voice and the accompanying music are not. Something of a thematic sequel to "Pretty Hurts," "Flawless" is by far the most different of all the offerings on Beyoncé. With an overlaying reading from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stating, "Because I'm a female, I'm expected to aspire to marriage. Why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and not males?", Beyoncé revisits the feminist side of her personality. Asserting her dominance, she shouts, "Don't think I'm just his little wife/Bow down bitches."
Frank Ocean's appearance on "Superpower" comes across as a way to balance out the fact that he also appeared on Jay-Z's last album. It's largely unenjoyable in spite of his rich vocals. Furthering the cheese factor of "Superpower" is "Heaven."The ballad iterates the sentiment "Heaven couldn't wait for you"...so I'm guessing it's about a dead person? The concluding track, "Blue," featuring, um, Blue Ivy is a love song to one of the most famous celebrity children ever born. And yeah, that's all you can really say about it.
More than anything, it's the simultaneous release of an accompanying video for every song that is notable about Beyoncé. Is this a life-changing album? No. That's why I'm suspect of all the fanfare surrounding it. What's the harm in acknowledging that this is a work that exhibits a schizophrenic message about womanhood and content that solidifies a paucity of real problems in the singer's life.