Beyonce’s ‘Beyonce’: Track-By-Track Album Review

Beyonce is the baddest chick in the game. This is not open to debate. There is no counter argument. After a full year of fan exasperation, media ridicule and music industry gossip, Mrs. Carter broke the internet by throwing her self-titled fifth studio album on iTunes in the middle of the night without so much as a tweet to herald its arrival. And then, as The BeyHive imploded and critics swooned, she casually uploaded pics of cupcakes to Instagram. Cupcakes!

The audacity and enormity of Bey’s move can not be understated. Her anti-establishment approach to releasing an album took the rule book, ripped out a few pages and used them to roll a giant blunt. She not only forwent the tried-and-tested promo route of endless previews, pointless lyric videos and confusing buzz singles but also served up an entire era of content in fell swoop. Touted as a visual album (it boasts 17 breathtaking video clips), Beyonce is a multi-media project of exquisite quality and dizzying ambition.

Picking up when 4 left off, the 17-time Grammy winner (see that number skyrocket next year) stays true to her R&B roots on album number five — with one big difference. Her last opus had a one foot firmly in the past with its warm retro-soul sound, this time around, Third Ward Trill looks to the future with slick urban beats, sparse production and the occasional alt-R&B flourish. It’s a cohesive work of art, not a meaningless collection of singles. Explore Beyonce with my track by track review after the jump.

1. “Pretty Hurts”

“What is your aspiration in life?” is the question Harvey Keitel poses our heroine in album opener “Pretty Hurts”. Her answer? “To be happy.” Over the course Beyonce, it becomes increasingly clear that Mrs. Carter’s key to happiness is navigating life on her terms — be it making the music she wants or being comfortable in her own skin.

The superstar has a long history of female empowerment anthems but this gorgeous plea for self-acceptance has to be her most incisive and effective. It’s also a radical return to form for Sia. After a string of disappointments, her lyrics find their old bite and Beyonce takes it to church with a flawless vocal. This has to be a single.

2. “Ghost/Haunted”

After a deceptively ‘pop’ introduction with “Pretty Hurts”, the 32-year-old triple threat unveils her new soundscape in earnest on “Ghost/Haunted”. Eerie minimal beats hover like fog while Bey addresses her critics. “All the shit I do is boring, all these record labels boring,” she spits. “I don’t trust these record labels, I’m tourin’.”

But it gets better. “Probably won’t make no money off this,” the diva declares. “Oh well!” The superstar is basically saying she will take artistic integrity over chart success. But here’s the catch. The album sold 80,000 copies in three hours, so she’ll probably get to have both. Also, props to newcomer Boots for his toothpick perfect production.

3. “Drunk In Love” (feat. Jay Z)

If “Crazy In Love” documented the heady, initial days of Beyonce’s love affair with Jay Z, “Drunk In Love” is proof that their union grew stronger with each passing year. A riot of warm, hazy synths and chunky trap beats, the exquisitely produced slow jam is custom designed for urban radio airplay. As for Hov’s verse? He knows better than to take the spotlight from his lady, simply singing her praises: “you’re the baddest bitch by far.” Amen.

4. “Blow”

What happens when you put Timbaland, Pharrell, Justin Timberlake and Beyonce in a room together? Apart from increase your insurance premiums, the answer seems to be record a breathtakingly catchy disco-tinged, retro-R&B jam called “Blow”. Not only does this boast the best video of 2013 (roller-disco Bey for the win!), it’s a late contender for the song of the year too.

“Keep me humming, keep me moaning,” purrs the sex kitten over heavy bass and chunky beats before asking her man to “turn that cherry out!” There’s even a French language interlude. Think of this as the female equivalent to the winning retro R&B sound JT and Timba perfected on The 20/20 Experience.

5. “No Angel”

After a breezy, relatively mainstream detour, Bey returns to her minimal R&B grind on “No Angel”. Penned and produced by Caroline Polachek (one half of synthpop duo Chairlift), this multi-layered sonic adventure experiments wildly with synths and beats — giving the pop legend a lush electronic canvas to dive into. This pretty gem needs a few listens to be properly consumed but its ultimately one of the album’s most fulfilling moments.

6. “Yonce/Partition”

So here’s the deal. Yonce is the new Sasha Fierce — only way Fiercer. She pops up on the intro to “Partition”, spitting bars like a boss. Just wait for “Yonce all on his mouth like liquor!” to become an international meme. As for the song it introduces? “Partition” is possibly the most talked-about song on the LP.

“Driver roll up the partition please, I don’t need you to see Beyonce on her knees,” coos the Queen of R&B. That saucy lyric gives you some idea of the sexual onslaught that awaits you but none of us were ready for Bey to admit “he Monica Lewinsky‘d all on my gown!” over meaty Timbaland beats. The video needs to be watched in private, if you know what I mean.

7. “Jealous”

After exposing her sexy backseat antics, Bey exposes her insecurities on “Jealous”. In many ways this is an update of “If I Were A Boy” for grown women. Alone in her penthouse (it is Beyonce), the 32-year-old berates herself for her emotional shortcomings. It’s frank, honest and vulnerable — characteristics that B doesn’t allow herself to show very often. This is a dark horse for a radio single down the line.

8. “Rocket”

The prospect of a Miguel/Beyonce collaboration is such a tantalizing prospect on paper that it couldn’t possibly live up to expectations, right? Wrong. Fans of the B’Day era will find so much to love about “Rocket” — the album’s sexy, retro-soul moment. It’s a vocal tour de force with eye-popping, quotable lyrics.

“Let me sit this ass on you and show you how I feel,” she tells her man before giving him explicit instructions on how their evening is going to proceed. “If you like you can touch it babe, do you wanna touch it baby?” she asks rhetorically because the answer is obviously yes. Beyonce always playing.

9. “Mine” (feat. Drake)

Cut and paste what I just said about Miguel because King B pulls off the same magic trick with Drake. Produced by Noah Shebib (the man behind Drizzy’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home”), the track drags Bey into the Canadian superstar’s late night confessional soundscape.

“I’m not feeling myself since the baby, are we even going to make it?” admits the game’s leading diva over piano and haunting beats on “Mine”. That’s where Drake comes in with an initially jarring refrain of “this is a song for the good girl” but there’s method to his madness. It makes the unashamedly romantic chorus palatable and adds another layer to a dauntingly brilliant collaboration.

10. “XO”

According to Billboard, Beyonce is sending two songs to radio next week. There’s no shortage of R&B hits on the LP but the lead pop single has to be “Pretty Hurts” or “XO”. The Ryan Tedder-penned, Hit-Boy produced synth-drenched, mid-tempo jam is a fizzy pop delight.

As far as loved up radio-ready anthems go, “XO” is impossible to beat. “In the darkest night hour, I search through the crowd,” Bey swoons. “Your face is all that I see, I give you everything. Baby, love me lights out.” Happily the video is as gorgeous as the song with Terry Richardson simply filming Bey living it up at Coney Island. It’s almost too perfect.

11. “***Flawless” (feat. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)

Here’s the good news. “Bow Down” made the album. Kind of. It serves as the introduction to musical mission statement “***Flawless”. It makes more sense in this context. No longer the brag track we initially mistook it for, the ode to H-Town  sets up the album’s boldest feminist statement.

Nigerian wordsmith Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reads a poem about the oppression of women over spooky beats before Bey declares “I woke up like this flawless!” and proceeds to give her female audience some impeccable advice. “Ladies, tell em’ I look so good tonight. Flawless!” The message is clear. Be proud and confident, even when you’re losing Starsearch in terrible Tina Knowles-designed outfits — the fate that befell Girl’s Tyme (the original incarnation of Destiny’s Child) in the early ’90s as documented in the video.

12. “Superpower” (feat. Frank Ocean)

Let’s get this out of the way first. Destiny’s Child reunites in the “Superpower” video, which basically recreates the riot scene in “Run The World (Girls)”. Beyonce really needs to get past the failure of that single but I guess we all have our cross to bear. Seeing the ladies together again is heartwarming — particularly when they’re hanging out with Les Twins, Pharrell and Luke James.

As for the song? “Superpower” is a mysterious, meandering alt-R&B experiment that wouldn’t sound out of place on Frank Ocean‘s own Channel Orange album. It’s the kind of multi-layered treat that unfolds with each listen, so be patient with this Pharrell-produced grower.

13. “Heaven”

Perhaps the most slept on song by fans, “Heaven” is perhaps my favorite cut (although it changes every time I hear the album). If “Halo” had an edgy, indie sister it would sound a lot like “Heaven”. Produced by Boots, the fragile ballad is a heartbreaking letter to a lost loved one.

“I just can’t stand to see you leaving but heaven couldn’t wait for you,” laments the superstar. Given that the song precedes “Blue”, many are speculating it’s dedicated to the child Beyonce miscarriaged. We’ll probably never know but, if so, it couldn’t be a more beautiful tribute.

14. “Blue” (feat. Blue Ivy)

Eyes rolled across the internet when Blue Ivy‘s name appeared on the Beyonce tracklist but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if she snags a Grammy for this adorable anthem. Not because her line of dialogue is particularly noteworthy but because you know Bey’s going to submit it and the song itself is utterly gorgeous. Again, Boots (whoever this mysterious genius is) knocks it out of the park production-wise.

15. “Grown Woman”

There’s not much to say about this afrobeat-infused tune. Bey has performed it every night of The Mrs. Carter Show world tour and fans respond to it like a number one hit. Only, “Grown Woman” is still officially unreleased given that the video makes the project but not the actual song — and for good reason. As good as it, the Timbaland-produced track sounds completely out of place. Having said all that, the video is life itself.

There’s not a dud track on Beyonce. In fact, it’s neck-and-neck with 4 as the diva’s most fully realized work of art. I’m fuming that we already published our best albums countdown because this blows the other contenders out of the water. Only Queen Bey could waltz in at the last second and snatch 2013′s wig so ruthlessly.

Idolator Score: 5/5

Mike Wass

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  • kelly

    5/5? That’s ridiculous! This album is a complete and utter mess. I feel it that since she made fans wait so long that, like Justin Timberlake, people are just gonna automatically love it, and given that she made a video for every song, it’s all about the visuals. Girl makes awesome videos, but the music is just awful… AWFUL!!

    • mike

      I actually liked the album more when I listened to the songs without the videos after.

    • Andrew

      You shut your damn mouth, Kelly.

  • Adam

    Lol “picks up where ’4′ left off”

    Ya cause that album was such a hit *rolls eyes*

    • mike

      I think it was meant sonically.

      It doesn’t matter if it was a hit. You don’t need to continue rolling your eyes because that is not truly what music is about.

      • Aiden

        THANKYOU.
        I’ve never bought a Beyonce’ album before but I bought this, I previewed about eight music videos then decided to jump right in and buy the entire thing. This isn’t a standard pop album, it’s mature R&B. It reminds of Janet Jackson’s “Janet” Side B with all the laid back songs. Everyone saying the album is crap, I find it amusing an album that doesn’t feature sugar coated throwaway hooky top 40 ‘singles’ is called crap. It’s ‘adult’ Beyonce’, and as I said prior to this, I’ve never bought an album from her before but if this is the new Beyonce’ I’ll be buying every one she does from this point on.

      • Margarite

        So all you do is drag Gaga, Britney, etc. for disappointing album sales but for your queen sales figures “don’t matter” and it’s just about the art? Oh-kay……

  • RtA1913

    5/5 ? Oh god it’s official, this site is lost.

    This is so biased, Idolator has always overrated Beyoncé but this is now ridiculous, the album is just OK, nothing groundbreaking and please, 4 was a mess “sonically”.

    I’ve always loved this site for its freshness and introducing new great music (like Max & Bianca “Love Drunk” which has already premiered) but I think it’s time to move on when they praise so much an overrated artist, sorry but I can’t deal with it. I’m not a hater, clearly I do not like here but praise where praise is due, not just falling into they hype and overrate of a thief.

    • Meghan

      I couldn’t agree with you more….. a good album yes 5/5 no !
      I think people have just got caught up in the hole hype of it to be honest

    • Dax

      Oh my God. Yes. They overrated her way to much at most a 3.5-5 (maybe a 4). Not a 5/5 for sure though.
      I’m impressed at the sales almost as much as the views for Wrecking Ball. It’s Beyonce of course it will sell no matter what. Every album went #1.
      The album has about 3-5 really good songs (Drunk in Love, Younce/Partition, ***Flawless, Haunted, and Jealous) everything else is either boring or lazy.

  • RtA1913

    *I do not like HER
    *into THE hype and OVERRATING of a thief

    Sorry for the typos

  • xav

    and the videos don’t make it any better

  • greg

    it’s an ok album. the videos make it better. personally i like 4 more but whatevs. i do have to hand it to beyonce tho, THAT IS HOW YOU RELEASE AN ALBUM

  • Dee

    Mike Wass UNDERSTANDS music like a musician, like someone who knows its metamorphic power and has respect for those who take music and alchemize beyond mere notes.

    You’re a beautiful, humble, insightful writer and I enjoyed and found meaning in this review as I did your outstanding review of Bey’s live show.

    Thank you for giving a s**t about talent and art.

  • ME

    Im sorry but lets be real for one second all you twats that visit idolator on a daily basis to comment on a new selena gomez song arent exactly the most musically in tune bunch. Just bc there is no Single Ladies or Crazy In Love does not by any means make it bad. You all suck. This is by far Beyonces best album and maybe top ten of the entire year. Go keep listening to Demi Lovato.

    • Dax

      I took you serious when you said Selena Gomez (even though she has a few really good mature songs 10-12 adult sounding ones).

      Then I lost you at Demi Lovato. She actually makes real music. While nothing groundbreaking, like Beyonce, it’s way more real and honest, unlike Beyonce.

  • davidsask

    I like you MIke,but your cred on this review is zero. You are Beyonce’s biggest stan and this shows throughout, Why are Beyonce articles at you employer not given to objective writers? There are some good songs on the CD don’t get me wrong, but there is no real radio hits outside of Heaven where its not overproduced. I don’t understand the interludes and babble in songs, save it for the video instead ruins a song, and is also selfish as then people will have to buy the radio edit if put out.
    There are lots of places where urban R&B doesn’t exist at all on the radio so this not being taken into consideration for such a world star is odd move. I love that Beyonce broke the internet and this may make new things happen for the little guys, however Beyonce basically bought back her album from her label and then put her imprint in front of it. Record sales at first are great and frankly expected but after more listens repeat business after listens not as likely.Will physical copies break records? If Beyonce doesn’t make bank this time does anyone care, hell no! Keep touring your hits and produce some more please!

  • Xadax

    I thunk Grown Woman perfectly fits in the album’s story in the end.

  • MusicManDave

    This album is perfection! “B” captures all the elements of “R&B” flavor here. Sure to be a huge success on the mainstream charts. “Blow, Drunk in Love, XO, Mine & Pretty Hurts” are my personal favorites. Move aside RiRi. The queen is back!

  • enriquevillalobos

    f#%k the haters this album is amazing!

  • S R

    Well played Mike. I couldn’t agree with you more on every level. The mere feat she has accomplished by keeping this release under the table is beyond me. Any critic who sees fault or ill criticism with this is just fumbling to find something to write about or wants a death wish from her camp. My ample time in the music industry has never seen anything like this before. But then again, should we be surprised with the Queen Bey? She has the hold world in her hand including every musician’s career. I’m also elated when she decides to let KRo and Michelle continue with the own careers…and lives…

  • CN Nicholle

    Some critics have dranked the red kool aid and live in Beyoncetown. Beyonce hasn’t put out a decent album since Dangerously in Love.

  • steve

    Its more of a gimmick than a game changer if anything

  • Ella

    I cannot stop listening to the album. Even my husband loves it and he isn’t a fan.

    I am proud to say I am one of the thousands who powered Bey to her new itunes sales record, and I couldn’t be more happy for her.

    The lady is a living legend and NOBODY works harder.

  • Virgo

    Terrible, trashy album. Beyonce’s idea of female empowerment is apparently straight out of the school of Britney. That is, talk trash, act the slut, lose all sense of melody and grammar.

  • Karl Kilponen

    She is a hot babe but I wouldn`t call that noise music!!!!!