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It gives your reviewer great pleasure to report that on this album the singer has quite literally cut the crap and created a vibrant and inventive urban variation on an old school R&B set (that’s R&B as in rhythm in the beats and blues in the voice rather than rhinestones and baubles).
Peter Murphy, 19 Sep 2006
Forget about Mizz Ross or Tina Turner or Mary J Blige or any other self styled regal soul survivor. Beyoncé Knowles’s real antecedent is Lisa Bonet, the beautiful soap actress turned wild child who was briefly married to Lenny Kravitz and couldn’t seem to decide if she wanted stick with respectable daytime fair such as The Cosby Show or risk edgier roles – like her turn as Epiphany Proudfoot, the gris gris princess doing the hoodoo boogaloo with a gutted chicken in Alan Parker’s gloomy New Orleans horror-noir Angel Heart.
Until now, Ms Knowles seemed stuck in a similar schism, stranded somewhere between penthouse and pavement, ghetto fabulous and gated estate. Yes, her solo debut Dangerously In Love housed that ark of the pop covenant ‘Crazy In Love’, a single that still sounds as epic on the radio as Ike and Tina’s ‘River Deep’ or Martha & The Vandellas’ ‘Nowhere To Run’. Alas, the rest of the album was padded with the kind of lactose intolerant ballads even Peabo Bryson or Teddy Pendergrass might have deemed too gooey.
The new single ‘Déjà Vu’ clawed back some lost ground, a rattling good tune yes, but one whose impact was somewhat lessened by a vocal performance that ran close to parodying the singer’s own various stylistic tics and trademarks. The rather hammy video seemed equally self-conscious. When Beyoncé did the Ikettes hipshake to the tune of ‘Work It Out’ a few years ago, it was cute. To see her reprise the routine this late in the game smacked of a good joke told twice.
So then, it gives your reviewer great pleasure to report that on this album the singer has quite literally cut the crap and created a vibrant and inventive urban variation on an old school R&B set (that’s R&B as in rhythm in the beats and blues in the voice rather than rhinestones and baubles). B’Day weighs in at a sensible 11 tracks, no between-song skits, a minimum of schmaltz. Knowles and her collaborators (Swizz Beatz, The Neptunes, Rodney Jerkins) have fashioned a sound that is state of the art enough to compete for radio space with any Timbaland production, yet exudes the blood, sweat and tears of old school funk and soul. That ‘Déjà Vu’ count-in (“Bass…hi-hat…808”) illustrates the point – feel and technology need not always cite irreconcilable differences.
So, ‘Get Me Bodied’ juxtaposes complex vocal harmonies with skip-rope and handclap polyrhythms, a streetwise throb that blends fingerless-gloved firebarrel doo-wop with boom box experiments. ‘Suga Mama’ utilises a DNA sample swab from J. Wade & The Soul Searchers and beefs it up with deep-bass and Etta James attitude. ‘Ring The Alarm’ and ‘Freakum Dress’ are ingenious three-ways between woman-spurned vocal yelps, wailing siren samples and scattershot kick-snare configurations.
Okay, so she hasn’t completely cancelled the side order of syrup. ‘Kitty Kat’ is a pillow-hugging confection best left to Janet Jackson, ‘Resentment’ an antique man-done-me-wrong slow dance with audacious modulations. But such doubts are dispelled by tracks the calibre of ‘Irreplacable’, with its glistening melody and a killer vocal that is equal parts vulnerable and vitriolic (“Everything you own in a box to the left”) – TLC’s ‘Unpretty’ all grown up.
It’s ya B’Day. Beyoncé’s gotten born again.