Across an epic 16 tracks, Beyoncé‘s first album since 2016’s Lemonade is an absolute cornucopia of ideas: dangerously droning synth bass which cracks into R’n’B ’90s realness, reggaeton drums which slip into lithe Afrobeat, bewitching harmonies aplenty, and the pop superstar’s persistently enthralling voice; RENAISSANCE pays homage to the history of Black music while concurrently finding reinvention and escape.
COZY takes us through the beauty of each colour on the Pride flag (including an adorable reference to Beyoncé‘s own daughter, with “Blue like the soul I crowned”) in a mega-percussive celebration. On ALIEN SUPERSTAR, she messes with who is who (“Eyes on you when you perform, eyes on I when I put on”), also including an incredible sample of speech from the founder of the National Black Theatre, Barbra Ann Teer: “We dress a certain way. We walk a certain way. We talk a certain way. We paint a certain way. We make love a certain way… All of these things we do in a different, unique, specific way that is personally ours.”
CUFF IT’s disco-funk (replete with Nile Rogders squidges of electric guitar) sees horns dip and duck around a beautifully swerving melody. CHURCH GIRL is absolutely not churchy at all, though it revolves around the Clark Sisters’ God-praising Center of Thy Will – Bey prefers to skip the pews in favour of shaking her thang (and her “pretty, tig ol’ bitties”) at the club. In a similiarly cheeky ruse, AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM suggests the problem is in fact Beyoncé’s bad-ssery – though some have speculated her references to making a lover wait are about cocaine addicts’ weekend obsession, and the references to getting high, literal.
VIRGO’S GROOVE and PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA deliver gorgeous, sensual dico-soul, while MOVE (featuring Grace Jones, if you please, alongside Nigerian vocalist Tems) knits so many astonishing ideas throughout its Afrobeat rhythms it’s impossible not to get swept away.
The album finishes with two of its strongest tracks. PURE/HONEY is ballroom-breaking, destined to soundtrack spindips and duckwalks the world over; it even samples late NYC drag performer Moi Renee’s single Miss Honey. Final track SUMMER RENAISSANCE reminds us how important disco-pop queen Donna Summer is to Bey’s music, sampling (and interpolating) the icon’s 1977 track I Feel Love while our girl announces her own ballroom category entitled “BEY”.
Teeming with the power of community, rebirth, escape and a light-up dancefloor, RENAISSANCE is exactly what it says on the tin… but you better stand back when you crack it open.
RENAISSANCE by Beyoncé is out now via Sony.