What's Good on Beyoncé's New Album?

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Mary Rose Somarriba
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Beyoncé's newest album has taken the world by storm. It was innovative in its surprise release—the music press didn’t have a clue it was coming—and its presentation as an online "visual album" with music videos instantly available for each song. Simply titled Beyoncé, the album has received mostly positive reviews--not so much praising the content, but as saying, "Beyoncé is so big, she can do whatever she wants,” record labels and music-industry norms be damned.

What also makes the album unique is its significant amount of explicit content, which, as Beyoncé explains on her site, was inspired by her desire to prove that even women who have had children can get their bodies and their groove back. While that can be a natural impulse, when I listened to the album I caught myself wishing she kept more of it to herself. I have long felt Beyoncé had a strong-woman vibe rare among female performers today; she had something different than those who take a more objectifying route in their albums and performances. But then came this album. It’s not just that many of the songs are very sexually explicit, it’s also that much of it seems forced and unnatural for her. It hurts the quality of the music and sounds less original.

For me, the explicit side didn't add to the album; it took away from it. There were songs I was close to liking, before the tune was hijacked by a sexual-anatomy rap sequence or a closeup of her thong. I have now seen much more of Beyoncé’s rear end than I ever wanted to, and one too many stripper-inspired fantasies. Her recent Grammy performance carried the same objectifying tune, where she performed in a bondage-like outfit next to her husband, who was a stark contrast, fully dressed in a dapper suit.

Still, despite the many disappointing tracks on Bey’s new album, a few good songs survived the raunchfest. Thanks to digital-music technology, we can buy and appreciate them individually.

Here are four songs that are actually excellent, uplifting songs on Beyoncé’s album that her longstanding fans are guaranteed to like.

01) XO

When I first heard this song on the radio, I couldn’t help but do a celebratory dance in my car. I could tell immediately that it was Beyoncé’s voice, capturing a romantic vibe with a dose of playfulness, sans in-da-club imagery. “Your love is bright as ever,” she starts, “even in the shadows.” The lyrical light-in-the-darkness theme carries through the catchy refrain, “baby love me, lights out.”

02) Pretty Hurts

According to Beyoncé, another influence in preparing this album was confronting expectations of perfectionism growing up, whether performing at music contests as a child or establishing herself in the industry later in life. These pressures combined to form a diamond of a track in “Pretty Hurts” where she exclaims, “perfection is a disease of a nation . . . we shine the light on whatever's worst,” and, “we try to fix something but you can't fix what you can't see / It's the soul that needs the surgery.” Boom!

03) Blue

An ode to her daughter, this is my favorite track on the album and the video that accompanies it is stunning. What other pop singer today can write a gorgeous song embracing a mommy-toddler relationship? This is where Beyoncé shines, highlighting something unique and powerful, capturing her latest womanly role as mother, and showcasing how fluidly she can go from low to high vocals.

04) Heaven

This last one may come off as too slow for some, but I found it just right for what it is--a requiem for a loved one. “Heaven couldn’t wait for you,” goes the refrain, with a touch of reverence and remorse, “so go on, go home.” Have your tissues handy.

With only four strong-woman ballads on the album, some fans might ask: Has the “Who Runs the World (Girls)” Beyoncé been lost to Sasha Raunch? It’s hard to say. Beyoncé says that many songs didn’t make the album’s final cut: “I recorded about 80 songs but it was the songs that were more effortless to me that stuck around.” Might there be more genuinely empowering songs left? They might take more effort on her part, but, if she puts them on her next album, I’m much more likely to buy them.

Photo via Entertainment News