I know what you’re asking:
Did I spend an unbudgeted $15.99 last week to download Beyoncé’s new “visual” album?
Was it worth it?
I’ve always been a fickle BeyBey fan. I was meh on “Run the World”(despite the fact that my friend Linda was a fierce backup dancer in the music video) but am obsessed with “Love on Top.” I cannot stand “Halo” but can — naturally — do the “Single Ladies” dance. And my fave version of “Irreplaceable” isn’t the original; it’s the dance remix.
So I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Beyoncé’s self-titled 5th album. Ninja release tactics aside, this new album is what I didn’t know I wanted in a record: an interesting, challenging, and evolving musical journey by an assured, if slightly over-confident voice. It’s not an over-produced, Now-That’s-What-I-Call-Music compilation of pop hits with radio listeners squarely targeted in the viewfinder. As much as I love sugary and inconsequential pop tunes (until they’re overplayed), there’s something special about experiencing an artist’s musical expression from one track to the next, a kind of storytelling that rivals the best screenplays or novels. And that’s how I felt listening to (and seeing) Beyoncé’s work here. It’s astonishingly authentic and beautiful, swaggery sex-tinged tunes and all. It’s fresh but familiar, with expected rhythms delivering unexpected lyrics, and vice versa. Highlights include the sweet anthem “XO,” blue disco “Blow,” and the fabulously fierce “***Flawless.”
The album is more than the sum of its parts. I wasn’t exaggerating when I tweeted that my emotional reactions while listening to the album were: Oooooh! Ahhhhh. Ewwww. Oh? Hmm. That’s nice. Eh. Oh, yeah. Wha?? In the end, I felt like I had been on an aural roller coaster, a thrill ride leaving me breathless but wanting more. (And then I watched the music videos and got what I wanted!)
And in that way, Beyoncé played me like a fiddle. She got me to react to everything she was laying down (including skillful rapping that gives husband Jay-Z a run for his money). She got me to listen to each track in the album instead of skipping around. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to an album straight through from start to finish.
As much as I enjoyed pieces of Lady Gaga’s Artpop, I thought it failed as a cohesive piece of art. Beyoncé’s latest is a crazyquilt of musical experiences that — like an impressionist painting — come together to form nothing short of a masterpiece.