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Beyoncé - Renaissance (Album Review)

Friday, 05 August 2022 Written by Huw Baines

Photo: Mason Poole

There’s pressure, and then there’s the pressure to be Beyoncé. Her recent output—from 2016’s ‘Lemonade’ through to her game-changing Beychella set, collaborative album with Jay-Z, and multi-hyphenate work on The Lion King and Black is King—has all carried this weight, lucidly discussing social justice and the Black experience while setting fresh benchmarks for ambition and cross-format, capital I Importance. ‘Renaissance’ feels different—it’s capital F Fun.

This is a record you’re supposed to move to. It’s designed for dancefloors and runs off the sort of charisma that would burn up a regular person like a comic book villain who pushes a plan too far. Break My Soul—the LP’s first single—is the sort of thing that Eurodance group Livin’ Joy were trotting out in the mid-’90s, but Beyoncé inhabits this piece of fluff with the same presence she uses to send the irresistible Cuff It into the stratosphere, its Chic-style guitar stabs answered by a cooed, “I'm in the mood to fuck something up.”

At the other end of the scale she finds space amid the juddering, decaying synth patterns of All Up In Your Mind—produced by Bloodpop and PC Music’s AG Cook, among others—to impart a clever, coiled melody.

Equally, the smashy synths of the ensuing America Has A Problem run up against clipped bars and weaving vocal hooks in a truly exciting, even tense, catch and release.

It’s particularly disappointing that Heated, a terse, skittering throwback to the chart-dominating R&B sounds of a decade ago, featured the same ableist slur that Lizzo recently trotted out (since removed in both instances) as ‘Renaissance’ is an obvious tilt at communal experience, offering up the sort of sounds that we’ve spent two years not hearing reverberate off low, sweat-spackled ceilings.

Given that it has been situated as Act I of a trilogy, this is a record that might one day be viewed as a trifle, or a minor work, but it shouldn’t be. Beyoncé has set out a series of aims and knocked each of them off with commensurate style. Whatever comes next will have to match that—even when you’re having fun, being Beyoncé is a pressure game.

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