Produced by

Knee-Jerk Reaction: Soundcheck On Beyoncé's Surprise New Album

Members of the Soundcheck team give the pop star's surprise new record a spin and have these first impressions.

Friday, December 13, 2013 - 11:00 AM

To the surprise of practically everyone, Beyoncé dropped her fifth album overnight, coupled with a music video for every song.	To the surprise of practically everyone, Beyoncé dropped her fifth album overnight, coupled with a music video for every song.

For those who went to bed at a sensible hour last night -- with your “Best of 2013” listicles locked and loaded -- you likely awoke this Friday the 13th morning to a discover a strange, unfamiliar new world where Beyoncé dropped an entire new album overnight.

Simply titled Beyoncé, the so-called "visual album," her fifth LP as a solo artist, was released exclusively on iTunes to the surprise of practically everyone, and consists of 14 new songs coupled with 17 new music videos directed by a wide variety of directors, among them Hype Williams, Terry Richardson and LILINTERNET.

You can see 30-second previews of the videos below:



As these megapop albums tend to go, Beyoncé includes a bunch of big-name guest spots from her husband Jay Z ("Drunk In Love"), Frank Ocean ("Superpower"), Drake ("Mine"), and Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ("***Flawless").

And despite Beyoncé's sleek, almost-restrained electronic template to these songs, the record actually showcases a small battery producers: Pharrell, Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, Noah "40" Shebib, The-Dream, Hit Boy, Terius Nash, Boots, and Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek on “No Angel.” Even Blue Ivy -- Beyoncé and Jay Z’s now two-year-old daughter -- makes a “featured artist” appearance on the song “Blue.”

Members of the Soundcheck team, thoroughly geeked-out by the sudden pre-Christmas gift of new jams from Beyoncé, gave the record a first spin and have these knee-jerk reactions.



There are a handful of things I'm looking for in a Beyoncé album: 1) The ballad that is going to make me love being a lady, whether I'm heartbroken or madly in love; 2) The jam that is going to make everybody scream and run to the dance floor -- your "Crazy In Love," your "Single Ladies"; 3) The jam I'm going to dance to alone in my room at home; and 4) The genius surprise- à la "Countdown." At first listen, I hear these tracks filling those rolls: 1) "Pretty Hurts" and "Jealous"; 2) "Blow"? 3) "Partition"; 4) I think the videos are going to satisfy me here. Truly a visual delight. (Julie Whitaker)

Favorite Song: "Blow"



The most surprising part of Beyoncé, is not how it was so suddenly unleashed, but its cohesion. Typically these towering monolithic albums from enormous megastars tend to feel a little all over the place from song to song -- if not within the same song (looking at you, “Countdown”) -- often as a result of patching together a bunch of tracks with the fingerprints of a billion different producers and guest verses. So, considering how many producers are attached to Beyoncé, the album shows admirable restraint.

So singular is the musical vision -- focusing mostly on Bey's voice over relatively minimal production built around icy keyboards and chopped-up sequencers, serrated electronic dance beats, and a deep, gut-rumbling sub-bass. In fact, it’s actually difficult to locate the true “hit single” -- although you could certainly make your case for the synth pop anthem “Pretty Hurts,” the slinky 90’s R&B jam “Blow” or the sexy gospel ballad “Jealous.” The record strikes one dark, alluring mood and remarkably sticks with it throughout all 14 songs. Which is why I love it so much. But if you’re still searching for that next feel-good song, look no further than the arena-full-of-fans shout-along track, "XO." (Michael Katzif)

Favorite Song: "Pretty Hurts"



Beyoncé’s high-energy jams like “Countdown” and “Love On Top” have kept me going on many a long run. (Thanks B!) I’m not hearing many up-tempo playlist contenders on this new album -- although you’d better bet that “Blow” is going to show up in many an exercise class. But what I am hearing are introspective, “unperfect” tracks that show a vulnerable side of Beyonce; one that’s more in line with the R&B that’s made waves in the past few years from artists like Miguel and Frank Ocean (who happens to appear on the album). (Katie Bishop)

Favorite Song: "XO"

Okay, I dropped everything to listen -- just like Beyoncé and her team wanted us to. I'm more than halfway through and so far I say, "meh." Nothing wrong with it -- in fact I like the approximation of dark-hued indie electronic rock in "Haunted" -- but leadoff track "Pretty Hurts" is a strong, empowering message delivered in a workaday pop format. Even the duets with Jay Z and Drake sound like business as usual. Where will the hits come from? Oh, just reached "XO." Maybe... (John Schaefer)

Favorite Song: "XO"


More in:

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.


About The Soundcheck Blog

Get hot takes and deep dives from John Schaefer and the rest of the Soundcheck crew, as fast as sound travels.