Beyoncé accomplished something that had been considered impossible in the Internet age: She managed to transform the release of her self-titled album into a spontaneous event. That kind of thing simply doesn’t happen anymore. Music fans know months in advance when an album is going to drop because the music media - SoulTracks included – runs a list of release dates for every artist of note. Most performers need that advanced publicity to create some kind of buzz and anticipation that will elevate them above everything competing for eyeball and eardrum time. The risk that individual songs - and in some cases entire albums - will leak onto the web is viewed as an acceptable risk that even A-list performers such as Kanye West have to assume and try to use to their advantage.
However, Beyoncé beat the system. And for all the speculation by the chattering classes as to whether Beyoncé is a neo-Afro feminist manifesto or the same old objectification of black women, no one can help but be impressed by the way Queen Bey flexed her muscles, leveraged her brand and protected her product. Executives and business schools will likely study the rollout of Beyoncé. To quote one of those executives, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, Beyoncé leaned forward on this one. Now she reaps the dividends to the tune of a million sells in the first week, including about 600,000 in the first couple of days.
People wonder why Bey made this move. That speculation ranges from the comical spin coming from her camp that they wanted to give fans a Christmas gift to rumors that the Sony BMG refused to support the project citing quality concerns. It’s more likely that Beyoncé and the label had creative differences concerning this good but flawed record.
And look, if the corporate suits worried that some of the albums audio 14 tracks were bit too long, Beyoncé should have listened. I’m assuming that the suits loved the collaborations with Drake, Frank Ocean and hubby Jay-Z because they love synergy. Again, they’re right, which is why they make the big money. My son is a Drake fan and hearing that Beyoncé includes the Drake collaboration “Mine” got him interested. However, the collabs detract from the album. Take “Mine,” the track the pairs Beyoncé with Drake. This comes in at a bloated 6:19, and most of that excess can be attributed to Drake’s male fantasy rap at the end. The Beyoncé/Jay-Z collaboration “Drunk In Love” is the weakest track on the album. Too long, over produced and Jay-Z’s rambling rap adds nothing.
Many women cited Jay-Z’s quoting Ike Turner’s “eat the cake, Annie Mae” from the Tina Turner biopic “What’s Love Got to Do With It” as another example of black women’s bodies being exploited and abused. I hear those collaborations and want to scream “Beyoncé don’t need no help.” That’s because Beyoncé is at its best when the album’s namesake rolls solo. She proves that she can operate at any level from the heartfelt remembrance of a friend gone too soon on “Heaven” to “Blue,” a sweet lullaby to her daughter Blue Ivy.
Of course, those tender moments won’t get the ink. The focus will go to steamy tracks and videos such as “Partition,” “Blow,” “No Angel,” “Jealous” and “Rocket.” The banging club ready track “Partition” is one of the album’s high points. It slams from Beyoncé’s twangy Texas rap to the rhythmic musical arrangement that matches a steamy story about a limo trip to a night club that doesn’t quite go as planned. This track is definitely a conservation starter because it will be fodder for those who think Beyoncé is taking ownership of her sexuality as well as those view the same of objectification.
Those critics will likely be outraged by the video for “Rocket” with those tight camera shots of Beyoncé’s body. Those critics have a real short and memory and selective outrage because “Rocket” is nothing but a female version of DeAngelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel).” As good as “Rocket” is, this track also lasts a couple of minutes longer than necessary.
The varying views that Beyoncé elicits can be considered part of the album’s genius. The flaws prevent Beyoncé from being a great record, but noteworthy art both entertains and has a way of allowing us to experience it through the lens of the artist’s own experiences and worldview. As a marketing strategy, Beyoncé is a masterpiece; as a record, it is Recommended.
By Howard Dukes