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Album Review: Beyoncé - B'Day

Album Review: Beyoncé - B'Day | Random J Pop

B’Day was a bit of a controversial album when it first came out, because the rollout was so damn messy, and made it seem like nobody at Columbia records knew what the hell they were doing. Even though many of the things that came out of B’Day would go on to not only be fixtures in how Beyoncé would approach certain aspects of her music and career, but standards in music (a whole bunch o’ music videos and a re-release) - it was difficult to see any vision of what B’Day was supposed to be at the time of its release, because every decision felt like a correction, and with the re-release, B'Day felt like a different thing entirely.

But just looking at the music on the original version alone, B’Day was still a bit of a strange beast at first. On one hand B'Day felt like the album we were always going to get following the mammoth success of “Crazy In Love” and producer Rich Harrison being the new go-to for women in R&B. But on the other hand, B'Day also felt like a pivot and a soft reset for Beyoncé. With Dangerously in Love it felt like there was Beyoncé and then the persona of Beyoncé. Where-as with B’Day we got the persona 2.0, who felt even bigger as a result of the confidence that Beyoncé had gained coming out of the gate with a globally successful album, and knowing that her solo career was fully secured. And if nothing else, this is what B’Day has in absolute spades. Confidence. But it also happens to have some damn good songs.

Album Review: Beyoncé - B'Day | Random J Pop

To surmise B’Day in a really basic way, but a situation that I strongly feel happened; Columbia records turned around to Beyoncé and said ‘We loved Crazy in Love so much, and it was such a huge hit, that you should just do a whole album of songs like that. Also, Amerie’s “1 Thing” was huge too, but we’re dropping her so *shrug*’. So with that, “Crazy in Love” and “1 Thing” producer was brought on to helm a couple of songs. “Say My Name” was Columbia records favourite Destiny’s Child song, so they called Rodney Jerkins. And whilst “Work It Out” wasn’t a huge hit, Columbia records had a soft spot for it because they liked how urban Beyoncé looked with an afro, so in came The Neptunes. Every door at Sony studios where B’Day was recorded had a laminated sign that said ‘Horns, handclaps and cowbells please’. B’Day is a one trick pony for the most part, yes. But it kinda works. It makes for an album which feels far more cohesive to me than Dangerously in Love. Beyoncé had a clear objective of where she wanted to go with this album and she went for it. A bitch stumbles a couple of times. But still, she went for it.

B’Day is very much a party album, true to the album title being a play on the word 'Birthday', the date of which is referenced on the party anthem of all party anthems “Get Me Bodied”. Every song commands that you dance. Even the mid-tempo lamentations of “Resentment” will make the coochie slow pop. But this is also an album of reclaiming womanhood. Where-as Dangerously in Love was an album for the most part about being the object of a man’s desire, B’Day is about taking matters into your own hands; whether it’s deciding you wanna be a sugar mama, letting your man know that you know your pussy is bomb and that you’re gonna give it to somebody who appreciates it, or just kicking homeboy out and reminding him the house he be livin’ it *Stands up* ♫ I bought it ♫. There’s an assertiveness to B’Day which I think became a core part of Beyoncé’s brand from this point on. It was always there during the days of Destiny’s Child, but was muted somewhat on Dangerously in Love because she was so freshly boo’d up with the Jigga man, and possibly maybe because Beyoncé didn’t wanna come off as ‘aggressive’ on her debut. Because that’s another thing Beyoncé is on this album. Aggressive. A bitch literally be growling on some of these songs.

Album Review: Beyoncé - B'Day | Random J Pop

B’Day has some great songs, all of which are deserving of going down in the lexicon of great Beyoncé songs. “Déjà Vu” doesn’t get it’s due, and I completely get why people found it so underwhelming as a lead single - it certainly does fade into the background on this album as a more muted take on the album cuts. But it is not a bad song. Even the folk who trashed it, hated it, and said they’d never ever listen to it again will spin and shoot a look over their shoulder Jessica Rabbit style when they hear ♫ Baaaaaaaaaaaaabay ♫. “Déjà Vu” is also the best produced song on the album, as it has a richness that so few of the other songs on this album have. “Get Me Bodied” is fantastic and really puts front and centre the level of musicality Beyoncé has, but we’ll get to that. An already great song which was made better by the extended version that will have every Black girl and gay gallop onto the dancefloor. “Upgrade U” is the second Jay-Z assisted song, but he actually gives a decent and memorable-for-the-right-reasons verse this time around. He really had me Googling what the hell a Audemars is, who Lorraine Schwartz is and where the Amalfi coast is. “Upgrade U” absolutely should’ve been made a fully fledged single. The Neptunes produced “Green Light” is yet another song that should’ve been made a fully fledged single. It has a chorus so loud, so catchy and so damn simple, that even if you don’t pick up any of the lyrics on the verses, you will end up shouting ♫ GO! GO! GOOOO! GOOOO-OOO-WOOOOO! ♫ when the chorus hits. The punani jingle “Kitty Kat” with a rap from Beyoncé which was written by Jay-Z. Beyoncé really told her husband ‘N***a write me a verse about how I’mma take this pussy somewhere else’. It’s like she knew his ass was gon’ cheat and that one day she’d have to confiscate the pussy.

Album Review: Beyoncé - B'Day | Random J Pop

B’Day isn’t all smooth sailing though. “Ring the Alarm” is trash, and that’s all I have to say about that. If Beyoncé had The Neptunes on deck, then she shoulda made them give her something on a Kelis “Caught Out There” tip, instead of having Swizz Beatz give her some horrendously produced knock-off. The album also hits a rock or two towards the end. “Irreplaceable” is a song that many people love, but I’m not a fan of it. It sticks out on this album like a sore thumb because of its sound compared to everything else. Ne-Yo wrote the shit out of “Irreplaceable”, and Beyoncé sings circles around it - but it just feels so overwhelmingly vanilla. It comes off like a late addition to the album because folk at Columbia were concerned that nothing else they’d heard on B’Day screamed ‘hit single’ and Ne-Yo was the man of the moment at that point in time having stormed the charts with "So Sick", writing a top 10 hit for Rihanna, and widely being known as the pen behind Mario's Billboard Hot 100 number 1 hit "Let Me Love You". They were right. It was the biggest hit on the album. But it's still super vanilla and sticks out sonically, even if it fits B’Day’s overarching narrative lyrically. The Dreamgirls song “Listen” does absolutely nothing for me. Beyoncé sounds great on it and shows she can sing, but there’s just no real feeling in the song for me - which some stans may say is deliberate because of the character of Deena in Dreamgirls and what she gets dragged for. As ballads go it’s just not memorable, and it pales in comparison to the Candice Nelson penned “Resentment”, which I feel does everything “Listen” was trying to do, but without actually trying to even do it. And in terms of sound and what Beyoncé gives to the song, it just works better. I get why “Listen” was included, but it doesn’t really fit the album, and I’d be shocked if anybody said it’s the song that first comes to mind when they think of B’Day.

Album Review: Beyoncé - B'Day | Random J Pop

The production on B’Day is a pretty mixed bag. At first, the album honestly just sounded like noise to me. And because every song is so loud and drowned in horns, 808s and hand claps, it’s easy to not latch onto the songs and navigate them. This is where Beyoncé’s vocals come in and play the biggest of roles, as she truly is the musical anchor of this album.

Beyoncé always had a great voice, and displayed a knack for being able to sing rhythmically in the pocket, with a flow not unlike a rapper, much like Mariah Carey. But Beyoncé’s musicality didn’t really hit me until B’Day. On most of the songs on this album, Beyoncé accounts for more than half of the music. I mean, shit...She IS the music. Listen to the instrumental of a song like “Get Me Bodied” and you’ll be surprised how little there is to the beat and how much Beyoncé’s voice contributes to the entire thing.

The vocal production on some of the songs on this album is insane, and it’s something that can be easily overlooked. Between the noise, the drums, the horns and the go-go percussion, you can completely miss how much Beyoncé’s voice is contributing to the actual musicality of songs. Every song on B’Day features intricate vocal work, harmonies and arrangements, some of which are of near Brandy and Janet Jackson proportions. The Destiny’s Child really jumps out on this album. Every song sounds like it’s being sung by a group of about five Beyoncé’s. Sometimes I listen to certain songs and can’t get my head around what Beyoncé is doing, or how the song can have one rhythm, which Beyoncé’s voice is providing, whilst the backing vocal arrangements have about another two. “Get Me Bodied” is a fucking marvel. Especially the vocal arrangements on that middle 8.

Album Review: Beyoncé - B'Day | Random J Pop

B’Day was the brunt of many a joke around the time it came out. Between the album name (Bidet), “Déjà Vu” being a lead single that not everybody cared for, just to be followed up with trash like “Ring the Alarm”. But B’Day was also bold, and fearless, displaying clear look at some of Beyoncé’s musical influences, as well as being a showcase of Beyoncé at a state of utmost audaciousness. Then there was the whole case of Amerie, whose album Touch also featured production from Rich Harrison, and had a signature song that many of the songs on B’Day coincidentally bear similarities to. Yes, I know. “Crazy  In Love” had horns and go-go, and came out first. But you’re in-denial if you cannot hear the influence of “1 Thing” on this album. The music video for “Green Light” even shares similarities with that of “1 Thing” video. Beyoncé may not have set out to fuck up Amerie's career, but she did with this album.

Is B’Day original? No. But Beyoncé pushes the songs so far out to a point where nobody else could do them as she did. The Deluxe Edition of the album features some decent additional songs, but they don’t fit the overall theme of the original set of songs and turn B’Day from something that felt close to a body of work, into something that feels wholly random and cobbled together, with no regard for what B’Day as an album was supposed to be in the first place.

Album Review: Beyoncé - B'Day | Random J Pop

B’Day is fun, it’s camp and presents an album of songs that despite feeling like an amalgamation of different women of soul from Patti LaBelle, to Tina Turner, to Chaka Khan and Aretha Franklin, still feel like quintessential Beyoncé songs. B’Day set the blueprint for Beyoncé before she even realised that it had.

B'Day is a little unrefined and rushed in places, but it hits where it counts and feels like far more of a statement than Dangerously in Love did. It's just a shame that after taking such a bold stance with this album, that Beyoncé ended up second guessing herself on its follow up.

VERDICT: IS A DIAMOND CREAM FACIAL RICH PEOPLE FILTH?

Highlights:
■ Déjà Vu
■ Get Me Bodied 🔥
■ Upgrade U 🔥
■ Kitty Kat
■ Green Light 🏆
■ Resentment

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