No Knowles, no attendant Child-ren, no barrier between the singer, actor and spokesperson for Pepsi and L’Oreal and her rapidly swelling fanbase. And that’s rapidly swelling in the demographic sense, rather than the tumescent dangly-bits sense, because, as much as Beyonce breathes heavily and hungrily grabs the imaginary bedsheets, moaning, [I]”Scream my name!”[/I] (‘Be With You’), or [I]”I’m feelin’ sexy!”[/I] (‘Naughty Girl’), the image remains of a devout young Christian woman singing what the public wants her to sing.
Beyonce’s latest single, the album-opening, head-nodding, body-rocking funk-soul genius of ‘Crazy In Love’ is a 100 per cent, stone-cold, dead-cert classic. Alongside ex-squeeze Jay-Z, B sounds genuinely, hip-grindingly fruity and, consequently, the whole thing [I]reeks[/I] of The Nasty. Sadly, it’s so good, a deep shadow is cast that the rest of the album never manages to escape.
The aforementioned ‘Naughty Girl’ whiffs of last year’s Arabic pop flavour, as does ‘Baby Boy’, with man of the moment Sean Paul, in which a disinterested B faxes over her vocal between hairdressing appointments. ‘Signs’ finds Missy Elliott joining in on a Zodiac theme even Craig ‘Flava!’ David would reject as woundingly risible, but it’s the irredeemably cheesy ballad with 80s cornball Luther Vandross that will make the voices in your head demand hot, fresh blood.
But it could have been so different. ‘Speechless’ and ‘Be With You’ are both warm, Curtis Mayfield-shaped early-70s soul pastiches, although, admittedly, the “That’s Bollocks!” button gets a pasting when, during the latter, 21-year-old multi-millionaire superstar B hollers, [I]”I’m your woman! I belong to you!”[/I] Unless, of course, she’s talking to Pepsi. ‘Work It Out’ is an absolutely faultless take on classic JBs & Lynne Anderson super-heavy funk, but it’s still just more pastiche.
Later, Outkast ‘s Big Boi and rapper Sleepy Brown both rub a gloriously lazy, spliffed-out rap-marinade into the droning, faux-psychedelic ‘Hip Hop Star’ and the effect is so startling you barely notice the sumptuous Pink Floyd-flavoured guitar solo steal, but there’s precious little else to be dangerously in love with here.
Not, by any means, a disaster. More a cruel glimpse of a talent that occasionally blazes but is frustratingly inconsistent.