Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Dangerously in Love [Columbia, 2003] *
  • B'Day [Columbia, 2006] A-
  • I Am . . . Sasha Fierce [Music World/Columbia, 2008] B
  • Beyoncé [Columbia, 2013]  
  • Beyoncé (Platinum Edition) [Columbia, 2014] A
  • Lemonade [Columbia, 2016] A-
  • Renaissance [Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia, 2022] A+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Dangerously in Love [Columbia, 2003]
With her daddy, the bonus cut reveals--as if we didn't know ("Yes," "Baby Boy"). *

B'Day [Columbia, 2006]
If opulence can signify liberation in this grotesquely materialistic time, as in hip-hop it can, then Beyoncé earns her props with a bunch of songs she says were inspired all in a rush by her Dreamgirls character. Many suspect they were actually inspired by Jay-Z, who has the noblesse oblige to save the only expression of erotic longing on the record. I don't. But I admire her for opening the possibility, which leaves Hova with his hands full whether he's a thousand miles away or getting one-upped on "Upgrade U." Not counting "Irreplaceable," where hook subsumes meaning anyway, the key track is "Suga Mama," which ends with Beyoncé ordering her boy toy to remove the duds she just bought him--real slow. On most of them she's wronged yet still in control because she's got so much money. A-

I Am . . . Sasha Fierce [Music World/Columbia, 2008]
In truth, there are three good songs on this 11-track artifact, and deeply vapid though the split-personality bit is, the trick of dividing the album into two CDs does leave a 17-minute dance disc that can be played without gastric distress by any purchaser who isn't picky about diva gangstaism or videophone porn. But me, I'm a hater, and thus I'm something like outraged, by not just those two pimp-outs but an "Ave Maria" lacking even the dumbstruck literalism of Pink's rendition or the grotesque conversion of "Umbrella" into "Halo." Interpreted autobiographically, this halo seems to adorn Jay-Z, who elsewhere inspires little romantic realism or romantic bliss in his bride. In fact, two of the good songs are rather hard on Jeezy's gender, and mine. When in the third Be claims she's in love with her radio, you can only wonder at her determination to live in the past. B

Beyoncé [Columbia, 2013]
[2013 Dean's List: 18]  

Beyoncé (Platinum Edition) [Columbia, 2014]
Set me back 30 bucks, but shit--the box itself has a nice velvety feel. True, the booklet collects 20 video stills that squeeze the credits onto a single pink-on-black page, the 2015 calendar shows off a mostly b&w pin-up girl whose cunningly unkempt designer outfits we'll meet again when we get to the videos, and the elaborately overworked videos themselves should be approached with extreme caution--after you know the music, please. But where most live DVDs are de trop, this one rules, not just for Ms. Knowles's legendary stage discipline and expert dance routines but for a star-time visage further beautified by how readily it projects empathy, humor, and fun to fans who get it all. And of course, the reason to forswear the videos is to give the songs time to breathe, which they will--especially but not exclusively the sex sequence, which over seven well-differentiated tracks performs the unlikely feat of conveying an open-ended eroticism that varies because Mrs. Carter knows eroticism does, for each of us in our individual responses as well as for her. So let's agree that Queen Bey is at best a useful metaphor--when she tries to sing the part and gets all regal on our ass, her majesty quickly becomes a bore. Representing lust, on the other hand, loosens her up. Enter the bonus disc called "More": filthier "Drunk in Love," nastier "Flawless," cuter "Blow," high-rolling party song "7/11," Caribbean outtake "Standing in the Sun," and the sisterly, daughterly "Ring Off," in which the queen mother leaves her doggish husband and about time too. Best Bey ever. A

Lemonade [Columbia, 2016]
So we know this would-be soundtrack functions musically as an art-soul concept album, right? Groove, flow, funk, that stuff? Present, sure, but only as part of ye olde aesthetic whole, and not the fundamental part. Nor, for that matter, are songs the fundamental part, because they're all also dramas, performances, LP-á-clef puzzle pieces. In fact, with the artist injecting a thought-through quantum of pained, proud, gritty, airy, furious, nostalgic, or conciliatory "feeling" into each line, the songwriting per se can seem like a stitched-together afterthought. So it's to Beyoncé's credit that only in the pivotal big ballad, which really is called "Sandcastles," plus maybe the loving midtempo de facto finale "All Night," does all this overstatement become too much for a Billie Holiday fan like me. Less to her credit is that said fan spent a solid week reaching this conclusion. He doesn't deny it was worth it. But Beyoncé itself he got quicker and will always prefer. A-

Renaissance [Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia, 2022]
I first heard the album of the year on a clogged Merritt Parkway in the rented Corolla that conveyed my family to our overdue vacation on the Connecticut shore. By the time I'd bought it at the Westbrook Wal-Mart two days later ("What's a CD?" the clerk asked), the Bluetooth-enabled car stereo version had sufficed to knock me out, and not because I instantly grokked its range of reference to the queer-identified dance effects my daughter hipped me to. I'd just had my spirits lifted nonstop by one shrewdly differentiated pop smash after another, and back in New York it connected even louder on a real sound system. Despite one that begins "I just fell in love/And I just quit my job" and stray references to "45" and "Karens just turned into terrorists," this is not a conventionally political album. It's Beyoncé as the "sexy bitch" and super-rich Basquiat owner she is, buttressed by an array of house, rap, and disco legends both cult and famed who add crucial flavor here and there--I've never enjoyed Grace Jones more. Erotically explicit, knowledgeable, and felt, with "Plastic Off the Sofa" as lubricious a married sex song as you could hope to hear, it's clearly designed as an antidote to pandemic weariness and historic despair. "Have you ever had fun like this?" Bey asks. She recommends it, and believes her finest album will generate that precious gift big-time. A+