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Beyoncé delivers her strongest album yet with ‘Beyoncé’

By Jake Reed

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oouinouin/flickr

oouinouin/flickr

If you haven’t heard Beyoncé’s latest album by now, you’ve at least heard about it. While Lady Gaga spent most of 2013 ranting about how she had created the “album of the millennium” and Britney Spears promised her “most personal” album yet with “Britney Jean,” Queen B truly got personal on her fifth solo album, which, while may not be the end-all be-all of albums this millennium, is probably the best pop album of 2013.

With 17 music videos delivered alongside its 14 tracks, “Beyoncé” is certainly the most ambitious album in recent memory. Beyoncé has always been a visual artist, but while she created videos for both singles and album cuts for her last three releases, she has never dropped an album’s entire video collection on release day. The videos range from simple visuals to more thorough storytelling clips, and often tout the messages of feminism and the acceptance of flaws found throughout the album’s lyrics.

For instance, one end of the video spectrum the album explores is simple and sexy, such as the two-minute clip “Yoncé.” The video features Beyoncé and her dancers gyrating and posing against city buildings, often zooming in on lips, breasts and B’s famous behind when she sings, “Ya man ain’t never seen a booty like this.” On the other hand, “Pretty Hurts” tells the story of Beyoncé as pageant contestant Miss Third Ward. By the end of the clip, she smashes all of the trophies that she has won, declaring that the pressure to be “pretty” is no longer worth the dedication and bragging rights it brings. In the documentary “Self-Titled,” available to watch on YouTube, the singer further explains the imagery, “I have a lot of awards . . . but nothing feels like my child saying, ‘Mommy!’”

Musically, “Beyoncé” is the icon’s most cohesive collection of songs to date. While 2011’s “4” promised closer attention to detail from the singer than albums like 2006’s “B’Day,” which was recorded in just three weeks, it still had its weak moments, such as the copy-and-paste Diplo beat on “Run the World” and closing snoozer “I Was Here.” On her latest effort, nothing feels contrived or copied. With slowed-down tempos and synths that ooze sex appeal rather than attempt to corral you to the dance floor, she bucks the trend of EDM-overloaded pop and R&B. And she knows it: “Radio say speed it up, I just go slower,” she raps on “Partition.”

On lead single “XO,” a reggaeton-leaning beat and glowing synths are used as the backbone for a simple but beautiful love song wherein B sings, “In the darkest night hour I’ll search through the crowd. Your face is all that I see . . . baby love me lights out.” “Drunk In Love” and “Haunted” find the singer flirting with big, brazen trap productions, a stark contrast to the pop radio-friendly sounds that sparkle on her biggest hits.

The brightest moment on “Beyoncé” is “***Flawless,” the first half of which debuted as part of the buzz single “Bow Down/I Been On” in early 2013. The instant viral spread of the new version’s catchy hook “I woke up like this” proved the song an instant anthem for women and gay men alike, but the song is even more significant as the album’s pinnacle feminist moment, borrowing a segment from a TEDx speech titled “We should all be feminists” by African author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In addition to its important message, the song’s drums and 8-bit synths show that producer Hit Boy (“N-ggas in Paris,” “Scream & Shout” remix) should have had a heavier hand on the album.

For a pop album it may be shocking to hear, but weak moments on the set are few and far between. It’s more-or-less a collection of strong hooks, hard-hitting beats, and then hooks and beats that aren’t the best but are still pretty good. For instance, “No Angel” and “Mine” might not be as poignant or concise as other songs on the set, but they are still far better than most of 2013’s pop singles. Not bad for a 32-year-old mother that could have easily peaked with “Single Ladies” and retired to a solid gold throne to watch pop’s remaining divas flounder about for an ounce of the success that she’s enjoyed.

Jake Reed can be reached at [email protected]

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