Before today, the last legitimate Beyoncé solo release was six years ago.
After releasing the stunning visual album Lemonade in 2016, the pop titan also released the excellent but largely forgotten Carters full-length in 2018 and The Gift in 2019, which served as the bright soundtrack for Disney’s The Lion King remake.
Because of the lengthy wait for her seventh album, Renaissance, which alludes to both Beyoncé’s homecoming and society’s post-pandemic renewal, has several implications. “With all the unfairness and isolation over the past year, I think we are all eager to leave, explore, fall in love, and laugh again,” she told Harper’s Bazaar in 2021. I sense a renaissance beginning, and I want to do everything I can to help this escape grow.
She can be seductive or overtly bawdy depending on the situation. Beyoncé understands there is no need to apologize at the age of 40. Though she never ever felt that way, she is now totally free.
The new album’s cover, which shows the singer in scanty dressed regalia astride a silver, luminous horse, gave away that “Renaissance” would see more of her than just a well-toned thigh.
Beyoncé also purposefully eschewed a visual element, which was a crucial part of “Lemonade” and 2020’s “Black is King” project, so that fans could create their own musical journeys with the songs she labored on for almost three years.
When “Break My Soul,” the inaugural single from “Renaissance,” arrived in June, fans thrilled to its dance floor vibe provided largely by a glorious sample of Robin S.’s 1993 club anthem, “Show Me Love,” and anticipated the full album containing a similar thrust of house music.
Most follow the blueprint, anchored by heavy percussion, disorienting beats and intriguing segues, with Beyoncé delving her deepest into hip-hop and salacious come-ons.
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Here are a few of the album’s highlights by USATODAY.COM, labeled “Act 1,” with two more to come. Because Beyoncé always has her next performance ready to go, as her followers are aware.
This futuristic romp is lyrically dense and musically zigzagging, with synthesizers creeping in the background. Over the stomping beat that gradually reaches its thesis: Celebrate being unique, Beyoncé sings, “I’m the only one/don’t even spend your time trying to compete with me.”
A soulful bop that finds Beyoncé, “in the mood to (expletive) something up.” It might sound like an Yvonne Elliman throwback, but Beyoncé has something racier in mind for her extracurricular activities. Dabbles of trombones, the signature guitar-funk sound of co-writer Nile Rodgers and percussion courtesy of Sheila E. equate to a pulsing head-nodder. “Have you ever had fun like this?” Beyoncé would like to know.
Thick, layered shuffles and an intoxicating rhythm drive her theme of acceptance. “I’m comfortable in my skin, cozy with who I am… I love myself, goddamn,” she intones over heavy percussion. She also reminds anyone silly enough to question her Beyoncé-ness, “Still a 10, still here.”
With guests Grace Jones (!) and Nigerian singer Tems backing her, Beyoncé is strident and fierce. With Jones she informs, “Move out the way, I’m with my girls and we all need space/When the queens come through, don’t try like the rest say.”
America Has A Problem
The most intriguingly titled song on the album includes production from The-Dream, a co-write by husband Jay-Z and a jittery hi-hat powering the production. Beyoncé tears into a liquid rap sandwiched between a heavenly refrain: “You can get no higher than this…love don’t get no higher than this.” Just in case things get too lovey-dovey, she also reminds, “the booty gonna do what it want to.”
A spicy banger that features Jamaican rapper Beam and samples Kelis’ 1999 song “Get Along With You,” which has incited some controversy. On Wednesday, Kelis responded to a fan’s Instagram comment about the song – following a leak of “Renaissance” after an early European arrival – saying, “the level of disrespect and utter ignorance of all 3 parties involved is astounding.” (The song was written by Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo under their Neptunes moniker.) But conflict aside, it’s a quick, adept prelude to “Break My Soul,” melding into the track with the precision of an old-school club DJ.
Plastic Off the Sofa
Beyoncé’s tremendous vocals are showcased in this pretty package of soulful nostalgia that cools down the tempo with woozy guitar strains and angelic backing vocals. It’s a straight-up love song that finds Beyoncé playing cute. “I think you’re so cool, even though I’m cooler than you,” she sings with a wink and a laugh.
The longest song on the album (just over six minutes) is a flawless complement to “Plastic Off the Sofa” – assuming the album is consumed in the order it was intended – with its spongy groove and Beyoncé’s declarations of affection (“You are the love of my life” she repeats throughout the song) that veer into explicit territory. In case you were wondering, yes, Beyoncé is a Virgo.
Beyoncé wraps her ambitious opus with a nod to Donna Summer as a sample of “I Feel Love” swirls in the background. The pop leanings of the song and its loping gait are countered by her unsubtle teases: “Know you love when I roleplay, who am I now?/I’m a doc, I’m a nurse, I’m a teacher/Dominate is the best way to beat ya.” A fitting coda to an album gripped by desires.
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