BEYONCE: DANGEROUSLY IN LOVE (2003)
1) Crazy In Love; 2) Naughty Girl; 3) Baby Boy; 4) Hip Hop Star; 5) Be With You; 6) Me, Myself And I; 7) Yes; 8) Signs; 9) Speechless; 10) That's How You Like It; 11) The Closer I Get To You; 12) Dangerously In Love 2; 13) Beyoncé Interlude; 14) Gift From Virgo; 15) Work It Out; 16) Bonnie & Clyde '03; 17) I Can't Take No More.
The key to investigating the music of R&B's biggest star of the 21st century (118 million solo albums sold, not counting Destiny's Child? don't you people have to eat sometimes?) is in trying to forget that this music was actually written /where not sampled/, pilfered /where sampled/, performed /where not programmed/, and digitalized /where programmed/ by a live human being. Unless you are her father, mother, close relative, hairdresser, or Jay-Z, you should not think of «Beyoncé», the sonic/visual package, as a live human being, and try to ignore any encountered attempts on her part to induce you into accepting her as such — any such attempt would be merely a ruse, hindering you from admiring the perfectionist gloss of the package.
Not being even close to an expert on modern R&B, not to mention hip-hop, not to mention their overtly mass-commercial varieties, I have relatively few points of reference, but as far as I can tell, there was nothing particularly groundbreaking or unpredictable about Dangerously In Love, an album that consciously took few chances, as its basic goal was to test the water and find out if it was warm enough for Beyoncé Knowles to be accepted as a major solo performer in her own right. After all, one member of Destiny's Child can only save up one third of the collective sex appeal of Destiny's Child — unless, of course, the fission process would convert a bit of lost mass into a shitload of nuclear energy. Which is what happened officially, as Dangerously In Love outsold all three Destiny's Child albums put together, for what reason, one can only guess, but something tells me the musical factor was far from the most significant. I mean, golly gee, just look at that album sleeve...
...anyway, where were we? Oh yes, human being issue. Well, it goes without saying, I think, that Beyoncé is rather non-descript in terms of vocal cord operations: her singing is a purely technical process, as she neither has bedazzling technique, nor unbeatable power, nor a unique tone or phrasing (as compared to plenty of other R&B divas), nor the kind of emotional depth that only a tiny handful of these divas possess (most notably, the prematurely departed Aaliyah, who actually did sing like a live human being). But on the other hand, she plays it smart here, almost completely rejecting the dreaded melisma, mostly staying away from over-emoting, and somehow managing not to get on your nerves even while executing the «soulful ballad» parts (these are usually the worst with that kind of people). In other words, the robot is endowed with some taste, meaning that we have come quite a long way from when people, overwhelmed with happiness at the invention of the emotion chip, used to stuff three or four in every available slot (poor Mariah Carey was a particularly unfortunate victim of «overchipping»).
Music-wise, somebody once noted somewhere that Beyoncé is «only as good as her samples», and I concur: the sample-heavy tracks, such as the lead-in energy dispenser ʽCrazy In Loveʼ (borrowing a pompous brass riff from a long forgotten Chi-Lites track), are generally more impressive than either «original» ballads or such complete dross as the attempt to resuscitate, in a duet with smooth talker Luther Vandross, Roberta Flack's old hit ʽThe Closer I Get To Youʼ (if this is a Beyoncé-approved idea of a tribute to the «retro» vibe, it only shows how seriously out of touch the lady is with the entire old school). But ʽNaughty Girlʼ is an interesting experience of fusing an «Eastern» flavor with a bit of Donna Summer (ʽLove To Love You Babyʼ); and ʽBaby Boyʼ continues the trend with sitars (?) and swirling, quasi-psychedelic vocal overdubs. Eventually, the album degenerates into a cesspool of sterile ballads that work only under the condition that you do accept the singer as a human being — but, since everything is relative, such a decision could be interpreted as your agreement to join the same robot army.
Actually, in terms of pure robotics (aerobotics?), the best song on the album is the one that did not even make it to the regular US edition — ʽWork It Outʼ was on the Goldmember soundtrack and, fortunately, it works pretty well outside of the annoyingly silly Austin Powers context, a nice clavinet-horns groove that Stevie Wonder might have approved, although Beyoncé does not quite have the vocal power to light that fire high up to heaven (she does come close with her funny "come on child, blow your horn now!" exortations).
In the end, Dangerously In Love is a generic album that nonetheless shows some promise: the problem is that Knowles loves her experiments as much as she loves her clichés, because it is the latter, not the former, that keeps the cash flowing and the fanbase multiplying progressively — and, say what you will, a rational experimenter always needs a bit of financial back-up to ensure the safety of the outcome. In this particular case, the outcome is a thumbs down, but at least half of the record is listenable, and ʽCrazy In Loveʼ, ʽWork It Outʼ, and ʽNaughty Girlʼ may even be salvageable. As it often happens, Dangerously In Love sold more than any subsequent Beyoncé record despite being one of her weakest offerings — but this only seems to confirm the old rule that the more people buy the music, the more they do not listen to the music.
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