ADRIAN THRILLS: Queen Bey rediscovers her Destiny… on the dance floor
BEYONCE: Renaissance (Columbia)
Verdict: Euphoric dance mix
CALVIN HARRIS: Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2 (Columbia)
Verdict: Mellower club sounds
HEATHER SMALL: Colour My Life (Warner)
Verdict: Pop-soul with an orchestral spin
Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing… in the streets, kitchens, festival fields and nightclubs.
Since the start of June, new albums by Drake, Lizzo and Mabel have arrived with their sights set firmly on those disco mirrorballs. Now Beyonce is joining the post-lockdown party.
The last time the Texan released a solo album, six years ago, she delivered a ‘visual’ collection that came with cinematic videos to accompany each track. She described the record, Lemonade, as ‘a conceptual project based on every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing’.
There’s no such preamble with Renaissance. The onus is on the music, although the release, on course to top the charts today, was overshadowed this week by the controversy surrounding the song Heated, which originally contained an ableist slur.
The track has since been re-recorded minus the hurtful language, which Beyonce’s publicist says wasn’t used intentionally, although it’s remarkable that nobody in her camp spotted the insult, given that Lizzo re-cut a track, Grrrls, for the same reason two months ago.
Amending the lyrics to Heated — and removing a refrain from Kelis’ Milkshake on a different track, Energy, following criticism from the New York singer — should at least put the focus back on the album.
Beyonce has released her first solo album in six years, called Renaissance
The LP sleeve shows her in Lady Godiva pose atop a crystal horse, with strategically-placed jewels and her cascading locks to protect her modesty
Released without anything being sent to reviewers in advance, it’s a euphoric celebration of dance that sets Beyonce’s supple voice to backing tracks channelling 1970s disco, 1980s electronics and 1990s house.
She describes it as a record ‘free of perfectionism and overthinking’, and it certainly allows her to let her hair down — quite literally on an LP sleeve that shows her in Lady Godiva pose atop a crystal horse, with only strategically- placed jewels and her cascading locks to protect her modesty.
Having made her name with R&B trio Destiny’s Child, Beyonce has become more adventurous with each release and the 16 tracks here are on the money, in terms of musical trends.
Her cause is helped, too, by some of the slickest collaborators money can buy. American producers Tricky Stewart and Terius ‘The-Dream’ Nash contribute.
Cuff It is boosted by the guitar of Chic’s Nile Rodgers and the funky clavinet of R&B star Raphael Saadiq.
With tracks segueing into one another, it’s an hour-long whirlwind that repays being listened to in full.
There was controversy surrounding the song Heated, which originally contained an ableist slur
We open smoothly, with soul ballad I’m That Girl, before the album picks up tempo: Alien Superstar takes Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy and remodels it as a bootylicious hymn of praise to Queen Bey. ‘I’m too classy for this world… I’m too classy to be touched,’ she sings.
A mellower middle section includes Church Girl and the slinky Plastic Off The Sofa. The latter features R&B musician Syd Bennett, of LA band The Internet: amid the big names, there’s welcome space for less familiar collaborators (as well as Bennett, there’s a cameo from UK producer Alexander Guy Cook, who adds arty electronics on All Up In Your Mind). There’s also, on Move, a fiery rap battle between Beyonce and Grace Jones, a clash of the Titans that ends in an honourable draw.
Jones, in her autobiography I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, appeared to criticise Beyonce (as well as Rihanna, Miley Cyrus and Madonna) for being ‘in the middle of the road’. Harmony has clearly broken out between the two.
The new album largely avoids politics. Beyonce asserts that ‘nobody can judge me, but me’ on Church Girl, but her mission generally seems to involve delivering good cheer. ‘Pretty girls to the floor,’ she urges on Pure/Honey.
She finishes, on Summer Renaissance, by sampling Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, a single that has been inspiring musicians ever since it persuaded Simple Minds to tone down the guitars and immerse themselves in electronics in the 1980s.
Beyonce’s take is too close for comfort to a straight cover, but it shows the enduring appeal of a club classic.
If you’re looking for a summer tonic from one of music’s biggest stars, she’s that girl.
Calvin Harris has released his new album Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2, a sequel to his 2017 record
Calvin Harris can also be relied on to make any party swing. The Scottish musician and DJ has scored hits with Rihanna (We Found Love), Dizzee Rascal (Dance Wiv Me) and Rag’n’Bone Man (Giant), and he summons an impressive gallery of stellar friends to sing and rap on the second volume of his Funk Wav Bounces series.
‘Welcome to the place where the people have a good time,’ drawls laid-back rapper Snoop Dogg on Live My Best Life, encapsulating the mood of an album that is vibrant and mellow, expertly stitched together by Harris’s smooth production and an understanding of the importance of a good groove that stems from his career as a DJ.
As on 2017’s opening chapter, he generally eschews electronic rhythms in favour of organic guitars, drums and keyboards, harking back to the old-school funk of his 2007 debut I Created Disco. It’s a sound tailored to his guests — and Dua Lipa, Stefflon Don, Halsey and Pharrell Williams are among those to benefit.
Lipa duets with U.S. rapper Young Thug on the tuneful Potion, and Justin Timberlake reiterates his mastery of song and dance on Stay With Me.
Jorja Smith adds jazzier notes on Somebody Else, and former Fifth Harmony member Normani teams up with Tinashe and Offset on the hypnotic New To You — a classy highlight.
Heather Small released her first album in more than 15 years, called Colour My Life
Dance music also lends itself surprisingly well to the classical treatment, as the success of Pete Tong’s Classic House and Ibiza Classics albums has shown. The latest singer to give her biggest songs a symphonic spin is ex-M People vocalist Heather Small. Colour My Life, her first album in 16 years, pairs her deep, pop-soul voice with the London Metropolitan Orchestra.
Small is a warm, feel-good presence, and the new arrangements (despite a few missteps) work well. How Can I Love You More is now more soulful, though the house music energy of the original is lost, while Search For The Hero was an empowerment anthem before it became a pop staple. Small’s career has stalled in the past decade. This might just be the fillip she needs.
Heather Small plays Soultown Festival, London, on September 3 (soultownfestival.com).
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