Will you go back in time a few weeks with me, to December 12, 2013?
I had just crawled into bed and was going through my nightly Internet-check when I learned of Beyoncé, our very own Queen of R&B’s surprise “visual album”. Naturally, I downloaded it immediately and decided to only listen to the first couple of tracks since I had to be waking up for work a few hours later….but before I knew it, I was listening to ‘Haunted’ for the third time and had already decided that if the first two tracks were any indicator that this album would absolutely make its way into my Favorite Albums of 2013 (spoiler alert: it’s in my top 10).
Beyoncé is impressive for a number of reasons, but most notably for the way that the singer is able to make build the album on a number of conceptual contradictions while making it seem like the most natural thing in the world. For example, it is the singer’s most sonically experimental album to date, yet Beyoncé’s amazing vocal abilities establish each track immediately as a “Beyoncé song”, inviting us in and leading us through the exact emotions that she wishes to elicit from us.
Whether it is by channeling Prince on “No Angel” and “Rocket”, making the sexual lives of the Carters sound just as exciting and raunchy as any after-party hook-up on “Blow” and “Partition” or just turning out more of her brand of pop-song perfection with “Pretty Hurts”, “XO”, and “Blue”, Beyoncé has finally made an album that is front-to-back excellent. (The shame of the December surprise-release is that the album missed the cut-off for most year-end lists – not that I think it matters to Beyoncé, but it does render all of those lists a little bit off). Ten years into her solo career, one of America’s most beloved Pop/R&B singers has put out her best and most mature album, but fans of safer pop music might be disappointed and probably a bit put-off by some of the sonic innovations. However, anyone who listens with an open mind to what Beyoncé and her team of collaborators have cooked up will find an album with enough hooks, heart, and catchiness to get them through all of 2014. Start with “XO”…anyone who has ever even had a cruch will know the feeling Beyoncé sings about: “In the darkest night, oh/ I search through the crowd/ Your face is all that I see/ I give you everything/ Baby, love me, lights out” (You might even shed a tear or two, the chorus is that anthemic). Check out the video – directed by Terry Richardson – featuring Beyoncé and tons of other people having a blast at Coney Island: