[Critique] Beyoncé decompresses on “Renaissance”

Whether Renaissance is not the album we expected from Beyoncé, it is at least the one she felt she should do. “Creating this album allowed me to dream and escape during a scary time for everyone. It made me feel free and adventurous when nothing else was happening,” the diva said in a post yesterday of the hedonistic, refreshing, and happily upside-down album, which brings together nearly five decades. club music, from disco to drill, from house to hyperpop.

Launched last month, the first extract Break My Soul sets the tone for the album, but does not define its colors. Quoting both the pop-house bomb Show Me Love (1990) by Robin S. and underground success Explode (2014) by New Orleans bounce sound icon Big Freedia, the single received a mixed reception: it was instantly crowned a summer hit as well as an easy recuperation of proven hits, and the same could be said for Summer Renaissance at the end of the album, on which Beyoncé recycles (a little easily, still) the immense I Feel Love (1977) by Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte.

There is always, in the art of sampling, a form of tribute paid to the composers and performers of the original works. The enumeration of songs sampled on Renaissance traces both the line of the very eclectic artistic direction of the album, but also sends a message: let’s salute these pioneers that the history of pop and dance has kept in its margins, especially those and those from the LGBTQ+ community who have accompanied Beyoncé throughout her dazzling career — Syd from Odd Future and composer and DJ Honey Dijon (on the impeccable house-funk cozy) collaborated in particular on the composition of the album.


Thus, Beyoncé, whose voice is still just as suave, notably dedicated this album to her uncle Jonny, who fought AIDS and introduced her to several musical styles evoked on this disc, starting with disco on Cuff Itwhich samples an old hit from Teena Marie (Is It Good I Need Your Lovin ?) directed by Nile Rodgers, his distinctive guitar playing lining the groove. On Pure/Honey at the end of the album, it’s Miss Honey (1992) by Moi Renee, considered an anthem of the New York ballroom scene of the time.

Elsewhere, heavyweights of 2000s hip-hop/R&B production Raphael Saadiq, The-Dream and The Neptunes are quoted — the latter on Energy, collaboration with Skrillex and Jamaican singjay Beam. Similar reverence is given to the few guest collaborators, starting with Grace Jones and the young Nigerian star of Afrobeats Tems, both reunited on the excellent Movea dancehall-flavoured production by GuiltyBeatz, one of the most sought-after composer-directors from the African continent on the pop planet.

As Beyoncé announced, Renaissance is an escape, after a pandemic, a cursed president and the rendering of minority rights in the United States. To evacuate the anger, let’s head for the nightclub: this seventh career album is dancing, from start to finish, even on the softness almost bossa nova Plastic Off the Sofa planted in the middle of the album. Eclectic, even disheveled, the album can be listened to all the same in one breath, the songs linked together like a DJ having fun putting everything in the same tray, genres and eras. From flowing disco-soul to nasty rhythms (pop curiosity Alien Superstarthe famous Ethicscuriosity All Up in Your Mindco-produced by AG Cook, boss of the electro-iconoclastic label PC Music), Beyoncé raps almost as much as she sings and abandons herself in hedonistic texts celebrating femininity, flirtation, luxury, carnal pleasures and the color of her skin – ” So cozy, I love me, they hate me because they want me / I’m dark brown, dark skin, light skin, beige / Fluorescent beige, bitch, I’m Black “, she claims on cozy.

And that’s the surprise of this album, militant in its pride, but without the civil rights subtext that has marked songs like Training (2016) and Black Parade (2020). Thus, after two concept albums (Beyonce2013 and Lemonade2016) where the musician reinvented herself as a visionary of RB and committed pop (mainly on Lemonade), Queen Bey claims her throne at the top of the charts and on the dance floors. With success, already: the song Break My Soul is now in 7e position on the Billboard Hot 100, his best popular success since Drunk in Lovepublished in 2013.


★★★ 1/2


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