Beyoncé, "Beyoncé" (Columbia Records/Parkwood Entertainment)
Beyoncé is a beast.
Her fifth self-titled album, released in surprise form late last week, is a collection of songs that highlight Beyonce's evolution as a woman and artist. It's her strongest and most cohesive album to date.
What's most appealing about "Beyoncé" is that it shows -- in the sound and method of release -- how she isn't conforming to mainstream and commercial standards: The songs, while some will find success as singles, play like a unified assembly, instead of a loose body of work (that's a hit at the slew of contemporary pop singers who are singles artists). On the gloomy "Haunted," Beyoncé even hints at the album's future success (or lack thereof): "This probably won't sell," she says. "I don't trust these record labels, I'm torn."
The album marks a powerful time for Beyoncé. While her competitors include acts like Katy Perry, Rihanna and Lady Gaga -- singers who consistently release chart-topping songs -- Beyoncé jumps back in front of the pack with an album that is both commercially appealing and artistically enticing.
She kicks off the 14-track set in a supreme way with the Sia-penned "Pretty Hurts," a mellow R&B number about the sickness behind attempting perfection. It's matched with a beautiful video -- as are the other songs -- and features lyrics like, "It's the soul that needs surgery." That's followed with the Jay Z-assisted "Drunk in Love," a strikingly thumping, sexually charged jam that's irresistible. And sexuality is a large part of Beyonce's album.
On the old school-flavored "Blow," one of the disc's best tracks, Beyoncé sings proudly of hitting the sheets with her lover, and on "Rocket," co-written with Justin Timberlake, she provides a Quiet Storm-anthem, where she sings softly: "Punish me, punish me please." On the falsetto-heavy "No Angel," Beyoncé declares she's a freak.
The songs on "Beyoncé" often double up in sound like two tracks combined, in the vein of Timberlake's work, though most of Beyonce's songs aren't as long. "(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)Flawless" interpolates parts of the previously released "Bow Down/I Been On" and is full of swag, much like the beat-heavy "Partition."
Beyoncé, a mostly guarded celebrity, has become more open over the years, and that's especially the case with songs like the self-explanatory "Jealous" and "Heaven," a soft and slow song about a loved one's death that could refer to her miscarriages.
"Blue," which includes the voice of her daughter Blue Ivy, closes the album and features Beyonce's beautiful tone and pitch. And that's just it -- "Beyoncé" is pitch-perfect.