For those who went to bed at a sensible hour last night — with your “Best of 2013” listicles locked and loaded — you likely awoke this Friday the 13th morning to a discover a strange, unfamiliar new world where a new Beyoncé album exists.
Simply titled Beyoncé, the so-called “visual album (her fifth LP as a solo artist, dropped overnight exclusively on iTunes to the surprise of practically everyone, and consists of 14 new songs coupled with 17 new music videos directed by a wide variety of directors, among them Hype Williams, Terry Richardson and LILINTERNET.
As these megapop albums tend to go, Beyoncé includes a bunch of big-name guest spots from her husband Jay Z (“Drunk In Love”), Frank Ocean (“Superpower”), Drake (“Mine”), and Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (“***Flawless”). And despite Beyoncé’s sleek, almost-restrained electronic template to these songs, the record actually showcases a small battery producers: Pharrell, Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, Noah “40” Shebib, The-Dream, Hit Boy, Terius Nash, Boots, and Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek on “No Angel.” Even Blue Ivy — Beyoncé and Jay Z’s now two-year-old daughter — makes a “featured artist” appearance on the song “Blue.”
Needless to say, people are pretty geeked-out by the sudden pre-Christmas gift: new jams from Beyoncé.
But the most surprising part of Beyoncé, is not how it was so suddenly unleashed, but its cohesion. Typically these towering monolithic albums from enormous megastars tend to feel a little all over the place from song to song — if not within the same song (looking at you, “Countdown”) — often as a result of patching together a bunch of tracks with the fingerprints of a billion different producers and guest verses. So, considering how many producers are attached to Beyoncé, the album shows admirable restraint.
So singular is the musical vision — focusing mostly on Bey’s voice over relatively minimal production built around icy keyboards and chopped-up sequencers, serrated electronic dance beats, and a deep, gut-rumbling sub-bass. The record explores one dark, alluring mood and remarkably sticks with it throughout all 14 songs. This is not another collection of songs but a true album, a full statement, a masterpiece. Which is why I love it so much.
In fact, every song is so strong it’s actually difficult to locate the true “hit single” — although you could certainly make your case for the big time Jay Z-starring “Drunk In Love.”
But if you’re still searching for that next feel-good song, look no further than the arena-full-of-fans shout-along track, “XO.”
It all adds up to what is sure to be one of the biggest records to be released in 2013, and one sure to dominate in 2014.