Beyoncé, Beyoncé (Parkwood/Columbia) * * *
Beyoncé’s “Can you lick my Skittles” on her steamy, revealing new self-titled collection replaces Carly Simon’s “Won’t you give me all of your limes/I’ll rub them on my body/And smell like the West Indies” in the annals of new moms in pop music whose curious food cravings carry over into randiness.
Beyoncé is a smorgasbord of confessions, sexual and otherwise, from an artist whose primary shortcoming has been an emotional distance in her work. Crazy in Love, her 2003 collaboration with husband Jay Z, brought along a wicked hook but little else to convey the craziness of love and passion.
On her fifth album, which just set an iTunes record by selling more than 828,000 digital downloads in less than a week, Beyoncé gets her full frisk on. She is utterly believable, frank and, as on Heaven, a soft ode to a baby she lost through a miscarriage, heartbreakingly honest.
On *** Flawless, Beyoncé samples a speech by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to champion feminist ideals and encourage young women to think of themselves as every bit the equal of their male counterparts. On the lovely and aching Pretty Hurts, and its accompanying video, she chastises family and society for imposing near-unattainable beauty standards on young women, even as she concedes that she’s a product of that environment.
Other songs, and the videos on this 14-song, 17-video “visual album” package, deal with postpartum depression, marriage and the love of her life, daughter Blue Ivy.
Beyoncé’s music departs from previous albums, too, taking a decidedly noncommercial, minimalist R&B vibe with songs built on moody electronic drums that tap an eerie, slow pulse. Synths scrape and twist amid languorous tempos that seldom work their way to a chorus hook or a beat. Still, the overall mood is compelling and intoxicating in ways Beyoncé’s music never really was before.
Beyoncé is, by far, her most interesting, engaged and well-conceived work. Blow, the most infectious cut, takes pride of place with other stellar pop singles in a year rife with them from the likes of Daft Punk, Robin Thicke, Miley Cyrus and Eminem/Rihanna.
If there’s a flaw it’s that there are a few too many songs set to the same leisurely tempo. The dancey Grown Woman, solely from the video set, would have enlivened the audio portion.
On Ghost, Beyoncé says she’s bored with record labels and the typical pop star routine so she did it her way. She figures, in a nearly whispered line, that this stark, frank album detour probably won’t “make any money.” That’s the one real miscalculation she’s allowed on this industry game-starter.
Download: Blow, Pretty Hurts, Heaven.
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Barbra Streisand, Back to Brooklyn (Columbia) * * * The singer-actress’ homecoming concert, co-directed and co-written by part-time Miami Beach resident Richard Jay-Alexander, proves her old Funny Girl song was true: She is the greatest star.
At 71, Streisand has a voice that is deeper, richer, warmer and shows no sign of fatigue as she pays winning tribute to her people, her catalog of pop and show tunes and the city that gave her life. Fans, you want this. (Available on CD or CD/DVD combo.)