BEYONCÉ: B'DAY (2006)
1) Beautiful Liar; 2) Irreplaceable; 3) Green Light; 4) Kitty Kat; 5) Welcome To Hollywood; 6) Upgrade U; 7) Flaws And All; 8) If; 9) Get Me Bodied; 10) Freakum Dress; 11) Suga Mama; 12) Déjà Vu; 13) Ring The Alarm; 14) Resentment; 15) Listen; 16) World Wide Woman; 17) Check On It; 18) Amor Gitano; 19) Beautiful Liar (remix).
At a certain molecular juncture, I almost caught myself liking this album — a grave error, since «liking» supposes some sort of complex emotional / intellectual reaction, whereas the proper response to B'Day should probably be purely physiological. For sure, mainstream commercial music may have completely crapped out in the 21st century, but at the same time, it is constantly striving for new ways to conquer the human body, if not the human spirit, and from that point of view, B'Day is a tremendous success. No small coincidence that one of the songs bears the up-to-now ungrammatical title of ʽGet Me Bodiedʼ. There is no place for the human spirit on this record, but it seems tailor-made for everything that goes one notch below the spirit.
As usual, there has been a boatload of various releases of B'Day in various forms, so that the fans could spend as much money on it as they desired; I am reviewing the «deluxe» version, or one of several «deluxe» versions, whatever, that has 19 instead of 10 tracks on it — and no, that's quite okay, most of this stuff is listenable, and the extra tracks, whatever they are, do provide better insight into the masterplan behind this concoction. There are very few ballads (ʽFlaws And Allʼ, ʽIfʼ) and even fewer power ballads — just one, actually (ʽListenʼ), and none of them were even released as singles, because this is not what the whole thing is about. The whole thing is about "giving it to mama" (ʽGreen Lightʼ, which was one of the singles).
Exclude the few pieces of hokum, and B'Day is simply one unstoppable groove after another — tenaciously catchy chorus mantras fired over impeccably glued samples of whatever it is that awakens and powers up one's internal epicycles. There is enough diversity in these grooves to please just about everybody: for instance, the classic funk fan will be quickly drawn to ʽSugar Mamaʼ with its guitar samples from an obscure song by Jake Wade & The Soul Searchers, over which Ms. Knowles plasters her "come sit on mama lap hey" in a tone that is all but impossible to disobey (except it's fairly hard to keep still while the groove is on). ʽBeautiful Liarʼ is a duet with Shakira, and thus expectedly combining elements of R&B and Latin styles. ʽFreakum Dressʼ is influenced by go-go, but also adds almost Queen-style vocal crescendos in the middle. ʽGreen Lightʼ moves through like three or four different sections (funk, ska, ballad, jazz?..), and so on.
Behind all these grooves lies a big, grinning nothing — curled up and ready to be materialized into some Big Feminist / Materialist / Modernist / Humanist Statement by mainstream criticism, although, frankly speaking, Beyoncé herself gives very little opportunity to overestimate or overanalyze her lyrics and attitudes. Her singing, as usual, is always adequate: she neither rejects her own sexuality and body drive, nor over-emphasizes it, so that even a straightforward dancefloor anthem like ʽGet Me Bodiedʼ is just a song about dancing, not some sort of religious epiphany about how you only come to properly know your inner self through the dancefloor. At least Beyoncé is smart enough to know that trying to seem smarter than she is will only lead to confusion, and there is nothing as cretinous here as, say, Alicia Keys' ʽSuperwomanʼ. (But don't worry, it will get worse — multiplatinum superstars always end up the same way).
In the meantime, «hollow hooks» abound. ʽIrreplaceableʼ is a half-groove, half-ballad that generally sucks, but has an unbeatable chorus of "you must not know 'bout me" that should have received more songwriting polish. ʽUpgrade Uʼ is the record's best propped-up hip-hop arrangement (although, as usual, I could easily do without the Jay-Z part). The four-song stretch of ʽFreakum Dressʼ, ʽSuga Mamaʼ, ʽDéjà Vuʼ, and the siren-driven ʽRing The Alarmʼ is possibly the best four-song stretch ever on a Beyoncé record — on their own, each of these songs is only so-so, but when placed together on the «deluxe» edition, they generate the impression of almost unbridled creativity. (Besides playing off each other like four distinct, but connected parts of the same musical soap opera where the lady begins by wooing the gentleman, goes on to be hung up on the gentleman, and ends by worrying about the chinchilla coats and houses off the coast that she's going to get if the gentleman happens to dumps her. Uh, okay — we all know Beyoncé is a lady of relatively simple tastes and needs).
Eventually, you come to your senses and realize that it's all plastic (ʽDéjà Vuʼ almost takes pride in its featuring real instrumentation, but this is really laughable — who could really be expecting a natural band to be playing on a Beyoncé album, and who could believe that band to be worthy of competition with «old school» R&B outfits?), but it's pretty damn high quality plastic. Within the framework of a social experiment, I give it a thumbs up, being only human and, sometimes, unable to resist a pretty bit of packaging if it is not too schlocky. B'Day is perfectly safe and sanitized, a high-quality product of The Human Robotics Corporation, yet I do recommend it for fans of human robotics worldwide.
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