Beyonce has released her new album in an unconventional way: she announced and dropped it on the same day, Friday, on iTunes. Here's our track-by-track review of the self-titled record.
Beyoncé’s quickly released, self-titled album shows she’s still got it
We kick off with a traumatic beauty pageant hosted by Harvey Keitel and an oddly forgettable song bemoaning society’s obsession with perfection. It’s a worthy sentiment, but it might have more effect if Bey didn’t look so unrelentingly fabulous throughout the 14 short films included in the album.
It’s Beyoncé into darkness. Abstract beats, stark vocals and an impressively arty video that ends with the singer painted jet black and again musing on the perception of perfection. She’ll resume that theme later.
Our heroine strolls around a house full of freaks, quite possibly inspired by that time she wrote a song with Lady Gaga. A fine track, this; full of fresh beats but nicely understated vocals.
Drunk in Love (featuring Jay Z)
Simple but effective, shot in black and white, Beyoncé dances dazzlingly on a beach until hubby Jay Z hovers into view. A play-loud-in-the-car cut, it’s all about the bassline.
From monochrome to multicolour, the singer cycles into a kaleidoscopic roller disco while doing her best late-1970s Michael Jackson impression. A fun, retro funk workout that gets edgier later.
Back to life, back to reality, as Bey – wildly out of place in white fur – visits a rundown neighbourhood. Caroline Polachek of the Brooklyn duo Chairlift co-wrote this atmospheric R&B anthem.
An unnecessary interlude. Beyoncé spits MIA-style attitude as her homegirls lean against various walls. Next.
Still at the mansion but now distraught, Bey pines for a wayward lover. “I look damn good, I ain’t lost it,” she cries, before launching into a catchy chorus about broken promises. You do wonder how autobiographical such songs might be.
From urban sass to a stately mansion, the singer indulges a twisted fantasy involving some staggeringly revealing outfits. “I just wanna be the kinda girl you like,” she breathes, over generic synth stabs. It’s an odd diversion from the empowered-woman vibe elsewhere.
Producer Timbaland and co-writer Justin Timberlake conjure a wonderfully sultry slow jam, although the only engaging bit of the slo-mo, close-up video is some curious footage of a power drill. What with Miley Cyrus’s wrecking ball, construction tools really are the big new thing.
Mine (featuring Drake)
A welcome change of scene visually, as a beautiful, balletic introduction leads to another beach trip. Drake adds extra beef to this crisp, experimental groove.
The casually-dressed diva flits around Coney Island, conjuring up dance routines for this track’s splendidly tribal beats and chants. Watch those XO moves catch on.
The album closes with the big topics, death and birth. Here, the sorrowful singer drifts between church and gravestones, grieving a lost loved one. “Heaven couldn’t wait for you,” she wails, poignantly, over plaintive piano.
Flawless (featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
Back to the issues, and in a grungy club, Beyoncé returns to the perfection question, insisting that women actually “wake up flawless”. Along the way she samples a speech from the Nigerian author Adichie (originally titled We Should All Be Feminists), her most direct statement on that subject.
Superpower (featuring Frank Ocean)
To a similarly gritty car park in LA, where, in funky revolutionary garb, Bey and numerous collaborators (including Pharrell Williams and her old Destiny’s Child bandmates) face up to riot police. As her lyric suggests, this track has a “subtle power”.
Blue (featuring Blue Ivy)
And, yes, the final guest is her own child, sampled late on. A joyful Beyoncé swans around Brazil warbling this quirkily sweet anthem, looking just like an average mom. Well, apart from the bit where she takes to the beach in an outrageous carnival outfit. But, hey, who wants Bey to be average?