By: Tommy “T-Rod” Rodriguez
The field of popular music is bizarre in 2022. Ever since the popularization of streaming, the Top 40 has been a potluck of genres and sounds, big time and indie artists. With this sea change in mind, it’s not hard to imagine that even the biggest artists of the day can drop something and be forgotten quickly; why listen to the heavyweights like Drake or Billie Eilish when Spotify is recommending something else as soon as that new song/album ends? This is all to say that the big name pop stars of days past are in a weird position, where even highly anticipated records can make a big splash at first, only to be forgotten later on. At the end of the day, if what you make is good, it’ll stick for a while…
Beyoncé’s latest album, Renaissance, has been sticking with me for a minute now. Considering her titanic status as a performer, singer and songwriter, Beyoncé pretty much encompasses that “heavyweight” title that I bring up. Having been pretty silent since 2016’s excellent Lemonade and 2018’s easily forgotten The Carters (see what I’m saying?), it’s refreshing to see Bey come back with a new album. It’s even more refreshing for that album to sound like it comes from a star; Renaissance is easily one of my favorite albums in 2022 and is definitely the summer album we needed.
Ever since Drake dropped Honestly, Nevermind earlier this year, many wondered if dance music was gonna have a bigger presence in the charts. While I didn’t care for that album, I have to credit it for making people open to the idea of a mini dance revival, an idea that Beyonc´e embraces on Renaissance. After a dramatic intro on “I’m That Girl,” the album explodes with “Cozy” and refuses to let up. This combo makes for a great opening, with the intro being the long wait to get into the club and “Cozy” being that first step inside with your friends. “Cozy” itself is a bop, with an incredible groove and songwriting that showcases Bey’s vocal and rap talents. This confidence is present throughout the album, often revealing itself in as many shades and twists as the production. “Alien Superstar” takes that confidence to outer space, with a futuristic dance groove underscoring an interpolation of “I’m Too Sexy” and spoken-word verses…on paper this is bizarre. It should not work as well as it actually does. “Energy” is the logical extreme of this mishmash of ideas, being a short track that mixes up a thumping kick drum, a passionate BEAM feature, and some of the wildest beat switches I’ve heard this year. On first listen I was throughly surprised, on second listen I was bobbing my head, on my 10th listen it was already a mainstay on my gym playlist.
Speaking of “Energy” something that I must stress about Renaissance is its flow. The way each track bleeds into the next, via snippets of the next song’s instruments or syncing the beat with the next track, is genius. The second-long silence before “Cuff It” never gets old, especially since the song is so goddamn catchy and layered. With some great guitar licks via Nile Rodgers, a tight chorus and post chorus structure, funky horns and a great vocal climax at the backend, the song feels as huge as Beyonce’s status implies. “Energy” transitioning into the 90’s flavored “Break My Soul” helps the already solid single become a shining moment on the album, a great jam all around. Transitioning from that New Orleans-type sound to “Church Girl” helps emphasize the song’s story of Southern church folk getting lit on the weekend, a wholesome message that is accompanied by a sick soul sample and a ridiculous breakdown passage. I initially didn’t enjoy this song because of the kooky instruments on said breakdown, but the core song and Bey’s passion are way too fiery to not jam with.
For as wild as songs like “Church Girl” and “Energy” are, Renaissance still has room for songs that mix old and new sounds. “Plastic Off the Sofa” is a gorgeous, traditional R&B ballad, shining brightest as Bey sings about loving the little things her partner does. “Virgo’s Groove” sounds like a futuristic take on the R&B ballad, keeping up that softer energy for a mid album cooldown. The driving bass, the trippy tones hanging in the background, Bey’s gorgeous vocals on the hook, that outro? It was a favorite on first listen and has only gotten better since. Highlights don’t stop here, however; the album almost immediately picks up steam with “Move,” an Afrobeat banger that showcases Bey, Grace Jones, and Tems’s musical badassery. “Heated” is a smooth, tropical-tinged track that features an incredible last verse from Bey as she growls into the mic and disses her haters in one of her most aggressive vocal performances to date.
Most albums tend to mellow out at the end, but something that Beyoncé and her team made sure to do was make the last stretch an all-out sprint. “Thique” is a song all about being thick…and as a man who’s always trying to hit a new squat PR, I can appreciate the song’s addictive beat and cocky persona. “America Has a Problem” is a retro party anthem with its freestyle-esque drum work and rap segments…it reminds me of “Lookout Weekend” in all the best ways. “Pure/Honey” is a great cap to the album’s manic energy and beat switches. The two-parter has a sinister and alien step beat in the first half as Bey serves a cold and calculating performance, only to transition the track into a heavenly disco outro that is as sweet as honey. If this album were a party, I’d be drenched in sweat as “Summer Renaissance” plays over the blown out speakers. It’s ties the album in a nice little bow, capturing its sonic and lyrical concepts while serving as a great homage to dance music queen Donna Summers, interpolating her music while also moving it into a new setting.
I know this album review ran on longer than normal, but I can’t stress how great Renaissance was for me. It’s everything you could want from an artist of Beyoncé’s caliber. It has incredible attention to detail, a nice mix of different genres, fantastic performances and some well-done experiments. You’ve probably already listened to this album, but in case this review hasn’t convinced you, give it a shot. You’ll thank me later.
Tracks to Save: “Cozy,” “Alien Superstar,” “Cuff It,” “Energy,” “Plastic Off the Sofa,” “Virgo’s Groove, “Move,” “Heated,” “Thique,” “America Has a Problem,” “Pure/Honey,” “Summer Renaissance”
Tracks to Skip: NADA
But that’s just my thoughts on the album. What do you think about Renaissance; is it one of your favorite albums of the year? What are some of you favorite songs from it? Is it better than Lemonade? Sound off on the comments below and share!
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