Friday, January 24, 2014

It’s Beyoncé’s world, we just live in it

In a way, it doesn't even matter how good an album Beyoncé is, because the execution of its release was so damn brilliant.  I’ve been around for a while, and I can’t remember anything like this happening before.  You’ve got one of the biggest stars in the world, someone familiar even to people who aren’t huge fans of her work, dropping an album on an unsuspecting public on December 20, with no pre-release advertising campaign, and well after most people had already filled up the Christmas stockings of their loved ones (or themselves).  Not to mention, way too late to make the best of year lists at Rolling Stone or Pitchfork.

Oh yeah, and a new, lushly produced video to go along with each song on the album.

I’ve never bought one of her albums before, and in all honesty I’m not sure I’d know one of her older songs if it played on the radio right now.  But I’m not stupid, and I can recognize and appreciate a great performer even if I’m not particularly into their music.  But there was no question about it – just for the sheer audacity of the concept, I was going to get my hands on this one.  Ostensibly I bought it for son #2, but knew that once he ripped it onto his iPod, it was likely to stay in Elk Grove.

So how is it?  Pretty darn good, and certainly a huge improvement over the album that Mr. Carter released earlier this year.  Her voice is so good that at times it threatens to overpower the songs, and on some tracks it suffers from what I’d call “Justin Timberlake syndrome” – meaning, a good song that might have been a great song had it been a couple of minutes shorter.  And while I can appreciate the value of an album that lasts over an hour, you’ll have to argue hard and long to convince me that the best albums aren’t somewhere between 40 and 45 minutes long.

And while this is probably more a function of my age than anything else, I’m not sure how many details about Mr. and Mrs. Carter’s love life I really need (or want) to know.  There’s plenty to enjoy about a song like “Blow,” but I’m not sure I’d want to listen to it in mixed company (having said that, I’d rather listen to this song than watch Kanye’s video for “Bound 2.”).

To these ears, there really isn’t a bad cut on the entire album, but things really pick up at the end, from “XO” on to “Blue” at the end.  It may not be perfect, but given the talent behind it and the genius of its inception, there’s no reason to quibble with anyone who calls “Beyoncé” the album of the year.

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