Question: at what point of hearing Beyonce and Jay-Z fucking their brains out for 66 minutes do we knock on the dry wall and remind them they have neighbors who want to sleep?
A couple of lovely samples from “Rocket”: “Let me sit this ass on you” (the first line of the song!), “Even though I’ve been a bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad bad girl” (bad at expressing yourself?), “Daddy, what you gon’ do with all this ass / All up in your face” (I thought the world agreed calling your partner ‘Daddy’ is a no-no, mommy), “Gonna rock that ching-ching-ching” (either a reference to how much money her husband makes which makes this a terrible line or how Jay-Z is apparently just a very tanned Asian which makes this a terrible line that’s also racist) and “Baby boomers, baby baby baby baby” (what does this even mean?). I used to read Cosmopolitan magazines during breaktime while working at Indigo for the laughs but I get the feeling that Beyonce’s been taking their dirty talk suggestions as gospel. But worse than the lyrics, worse than fact that the song never ends and worse than the fact that there’s nothing musically to distract is what she does for the chorus; she repurposes Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – a song about love overcoming all obstacles, you remember – into her own little porn. Guess what the mountain and river are metaphors for in Beyonce’s language. Terrible song.
Not that her lyrics are much better when they’re not about fucking her husband. “All these people on the planet working 9-5 just to stay alive,” she observes from her tower on “Haunted” and that’s the sort of reason why people hate Bono (the fact that she immediately proceeds to repeat “The 9-5 just to stay alive” six times doesn’t help matters) while a portion of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, “We Should All Be Feminists,” appears as a bridging section on “***Flawless,” which isn’t anything new if you’ve read anything by Jane Austen. Meanwhile, Jay Z’s stupidity has finally worn off on Beyonce and she drops “I sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker” with a straight face on “Partition” (whose use of alarms reminds me of “Ring the Alarm,” which was a better song that most of the stuff here; of course, no one cared about Beyonce back then because she wasn’t a “serious artist” in 2006) and Jay Z’s stupidity reaches a new all-time low on “Drunk in Love,” “You gon’ need G3 / 4, 5, 6 flights, sleep tight”, “We sex again in the morning, your breasteses is my breakfast,” and the obviously revolting “Beat the box like Mike” and “Eat the cake, Anna Mae” (the latter would’ve been a lot better if it were “Eat the cake, Anime” that people keep mishearing). I guess Jay Z had to assert his dominance somehow on an album where his wife details how he’s a surfboard (pronounced: SURFBORT).
And that’s just it, much has been made about Beyonce becoming a “serious artist” with Beyonce, what, with its sparse and darker (these “qualities” are relative) beats and its method of release (which is really impressive, considering the number of big names that lent a hand with this thing), both of which are why publications who didn’t give a shit about Beyonce’s previous output in the last decade suddenly jumped on this one (being smack dab in the re-emergence of R&B didn’t hurt, either). The last negative thing I have to say about this album is that Timbaland circa 2010s, who handles a good chunk of production here, is a much worse producer than Timbaland circa 2000s because everything he touches nowadays has to be fucking multipartite to give the songs a more 20/20 experience (pun!). For example, the first half of “Blow” is great, the album’s best (/only) groove (probably Pharrell’s doing, considering how much he’s been on the forefront of the disco fascination that year) and some really nice call-and-response vocals from Beyonce and Beyonce (at the 0:50 mark) (probably Justin Timberlake’s teaching), but then the song enters a quick section that’s clearly all Timbaland’s doing (starting at the 2:50 mark onwards) that’s dead weight because Timbaland had done those tricks better on The 20/20 Experience and why not just listen to that album?
But I’m still giving this a B because there is good stuff to be found. The songs when Timbaland’s not at the helm will often have a chorus that stands out because they’re allowed to, though I want to say that “Superpower” woefully underuses Frank Ocean (why couldn’t Pharrell handles Ocean’s parts?) and it was a terrible idea putting the album’s only two ballads side-by-side (“Heaven” and “Blue”) and it was a cheap trick for getting pathos the first time Jay Z featured his daughter and it’s no different here. “Pretty Hurts,” “Drunk in Love” (despite what I’ve said about it) and “***Flawless” are my favorite tracks here because songs where Beyonce is allowed to go full diva mode are often songs that are more successful than those where she’s awkwardly trying for some reserve; particularly love how she sings “Last thing I remember was our beautiful bodies grinding off in that club” in “Drunk in Love” or shoots her voice during the climax of the “Bow Down” section (the first one) of “***Flawless.” And despite what I said about “***Flawless,” Adichie’s section is worth keeping because of the staccato riff and choir (which are basically the ones used in the intro of “Drunk in Love,” except less obnoxiously and used for an end result) which serve as a really good musical bed. The same goes for the entirety of “Superpower,” where Pharrell creates a driving mechanism out of hypnotic male vocals and thunderous drumrolls.
The last thing I want to say: I think “We Can’t Stop” was a load of horseshit, but I think “Wrecking Ball” – the second single from Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz with the music video where she rode a wrecking ball and fellatio-ed a sledgehammer, you remember – did the over-the-top sexuality and vocal bombast thing that Beyonce inhabits much better than Beyonce does here. But Miley Cyrus received a lot of flak for her antics both on-album and on-stage that made her the biggest cultural event within America since 9/11, the American equivalent to our Rob Ford, yet Beyonce was given a free pass, even critical validation. Why? How is Beyonce’s interpretation of feminism – “We [wrongly] teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are” – different than Miley Cyrus’?