forget the politics and party with this vast superclub of an album

Announcing details of her seventh solo album last month, Beyoncé appeared to future-proof the work from criticism. She said that her intention with Renaissance, released time zone by time zone at midnight across the world, was to create “a place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking”. 

The album is about post-lockdown escapism, it’s a soundtrack to letting go, hitting the dancefloor, forgetting your troubles and, as the 40-year-old puts it, “releasing the wiggle” (on some songs, said wiggle is liberated in language not suitable for a family newspaper). Gone are the politics and anger of her last album, 2016’s Lemonade. Renaissance is Beyoncé’s unabashed party album.

Over 16 tracks, Renaissance is essentially a tribute to two forms of music: late-1980s and early-1990s house, and disco. It is peppered with sounds that anyone watching reruns of Top of the Pops from that era on BBC Four will be instantly familiar with: tinny synths, fat basslines and foreboding voiceover snippets. But the package is infused with hip hop and Beyoncé’s powerhouse vocals, either rapped or sung. 

Inevitably, the album boasts the involvement of a list of producers, collaborators and sampled artists as long as your arm – from Grace Jones, Tems and Drake to Nile Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder and Beyoncé’s husband Jay-Z. The whole thing is big, shiny and unwieldy, which perhaps explain her comments about imperfection. It is also often brilliant, in the way that going clubbing and having a massive night can be brilliant: it’s energising, thrilling, empowering… and exhausting.

Opening track I’m That Girl underlines Beyoncé’s desire to party. It bursts with confidence with a repeated vocal track about not stopping her. Cozy, the second number, contains the following line, “Might I suggest you don’t f— with my sis?” This appears to be a reference to the 2014 incident when Beyoncé’s sister Solange was filmed by surveillance video arguing with Jay-Z after a rumoured indiscretion. And this is a constant theme of this album: don’t mess with Beyoncé. “It should cost a billion to look this good,” she says on deep house banger Pure/Honey. The presence of collaborator Mike Dean, who added raw hip hop sass to Megan Thee Stallion’s music, is clear throughout.

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