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Beyoncé – RENAISSANCE

22 Aug

Whenever Beyoncé releases new music, it’s an Event™ – especially as she has a penchant for dropping music out of the blue. RENAISSANCE, her seventh album, was actually released on July 29th with a heads’ up by way of an announcement on July 16th. Expectations were high, and the first single “BREAK MY SOUL” raised them even further.

So how good is RENAISSANCE? Does it best Lemonade, her acclaimed sixth album from 2016? Probably not. But there are more than enough highlights on this album – not to mention an exciting new turn for Queen Bey – that makes this one well worth the listen.

By and large, RENAISSANCE celebrates the disco and house sounds of the 1970s, especially from Black America. We’ve already written about “BREAK MY SOUL”, a raucous Afropop-tinged disco track seemingly soundtracking the Great Resignation. “ALIEN SUPERSTAR” is another early stand-out with club-ready beats against Beyoncé’s sweetly-sung vocals. “CUFF IT” offers a funky disco sound with the unmistakable Chic touch – and no wonder, because Nile Rogers himself was involved on the track. “VIRGO’S GROOVE” is another disco-funk classic: a seamless, six-minute ode to the desire that Beyoncé still feels for her husband. 

When we looked back at these standout tracks, what jumped out was that all except “BREAK MY SOUL” come courtesy of a production & songwriting duo Nova Wav, consisting of Brittany “Chi” Coney and Denisia “Blu” Andrews. Chi and Blu first worked with Beyoncé on her Grammy-winning “BLACK PARADE” track in 2020. On RENAISSANCE, they have contributed to eight of the best tracks from this album. “MOVE” featuring Grace Jones and Tems is sparse and dramatic with an opening section reminiscent of “Tokyo Drift”, while “PURE / HONEY” is an irresistible track that brings to mind early-90s dance-pop hit “I’m Too Sexy”. “SUMMER RENAISSANCE” is a classic disco / house song that samples none other than Donna Summer’s iconic disco hit “I Feel Love”. It’s not a stretch to say that Nova Wav is the actual powerhouse behind the marketing & vocal genius of the Beyoncé brand on this album.

The other thing that really strikes you about RENAISSANCE is the sheer perfection of the song transitions. They are beautifully done in a way that makes the entire album feel like one cohesive whole, with different sections corresponding to different moods and tracks. In particular, the entire stretch from “CUFF IT” to “ENERGY” (featuring Jamaican rapper Beam) to “BREAK MY SOUL” is a kaleidoscopic ten-minute ride with no discernible stitch whatsoever.

Apart from the core tenets of disco and house, Beyoncé does a good job of highlighting other sub-genres – for example, the dancehall vibes on the aforementioned “ENERGY” and on “HEATED”. Gospel and trap intersect on the Megan thee Stallion-like “CHURCH GIRL” with its insistent drumline and a lot of quotable lyrics, while “PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA” is the closest thing to sweet pop on this album that’s otherwise aggressively sensual.

While there are definite weak points on RENAISSANCE (for example, the tryhard “THIQUE” and the forgettable “ALL UP IN YOUR MIND”), it’s clear that Beyoncé has spent considerable time, energy, and skills in creating the distinctive throwback sounds on this album. The production values are sharp and her vocals are as on point as ever. RENAISSANCE doesn’t have the emotional range of Lemonade (and to be honest, people like Jessie Ware have already made better disco albums in recent years), but Beyoncé’s seventh album is certainly worth a listen. 

Rating: 7/10

Best tracks: “BREAK MY SOUL”, “VIRGO’S GROOVE”, “CUFF IT”

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