Renaissance is a difficult album to review – there’s nothing to write about. It’s an unexciting album, derivative of dozens of songs covering dozens of genres of dance music you’ve heard many times before. “Break My Soul,” the album’s lead-off single, sounds like a Miami-influenced dance number Jennifer Lopez forgot about on a B-side she released in the ‘90s.
In 2016, when the news made the rounds that Jay-Z had been regularly cheating on Beyoncé, she released Lemonade. The album detailed everything about his affairs. (That album review writes itself.) Enough people liked Lemonade for it to win a bunch of awards, although Beyoncé wasn’t the only one to profit off her marital failure. Jay-Z wet his beak, too.
In title track of 4:44, the album he recorded simultaneously with Beyoncé, while she recorded Lemonade in neighboring Parsian hotel suites (oh, brother), he sings:
Look, I apologize, often womanize
Took for my child to be born
See through a woman’s eyes
Took for these natural twins to believe in miracles
Took me too long for this song
I don’t deserve you
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Lemonade and 4:44 had something of interest to say. Renaissance not so much. Renaissance is more about a flourishing Beyoncé living her horniest life after six years of dealing with the marital fallout from her husband’s sticking it in groupies, raising a kid, and quarantine. Which is why songs like “Virgo’s Groove,” “Summer Renaissance,” and “Church Girl” sound more lightweight than usual.
And if this new album sounds like you’ve heard it before, that’s probably because you have – in bits and pieces. The album is patched together by Beyonce and her team of producers with batches of sampled hooks. For example, “Get Along With You” by Kelis and “Show Me Love” by Robin S. are both used in Renaissance, although neither are credited. A frequent occurrence with Beyoncé compositions these day.
There are some interesting bits here and there though. They remind me of Bjork, Sneaker Pimps, Aphex Twin – a lot of ‘90s electronic music. The opening track, “I’m That Girl”, starts off with potential, but then Beyoncé pipes in, and it just sounds like an affluent suburban girl trying to sound hard over a trip-hop track.
“Cuff It” has a Chic-like rhythm to it – modified ‘70s dance music. I assume you’ll hear this one a lot if you spend time in dance clubs. “We gonna fuck up the night” is probably going to be a late-summer anthem, or at least a TikTok meme. It’s a lot more obvious of a lead-off single as opposed to “Break My Soul,” but again, it also sounds familiar. I could swear I heard Bruno Mars howl something familiar during a Super Bowl halftime. Maybe it was a fever dream.
Considering the political and social climate her audience is experiencing, it might have been interesting for Beyoncé to return with a collection of songs reflecting the times. Something about social unrest along the lines of What’s Going On or There’s a Riot Goin’ On. That said, I thought “America Has A Problem” was going to delve into political themes, but it’s just about her wanting to fuck some guy that isn’t Jay-Z. In all actuality, Beyonce is at least a dozen years away from a serious album with adult subject matter.
A protest album, or any recording that tackles mature themes, would have been far more interesting than what Renaissance adds up to, but as long as she can shake her money maker in time, Beyoncé is will stay in her lane – safe pop with the occasional ballad. No one’s buying a serious and socially-conscientious Beyoncé album while she’s able bodied.
Still, Renaissance is an interesting collection of music. The producers (I lost count at 45) fine-tuned this 13-track album for optimal dancefloor enjoyment. “Move” is a fucking jam until Beyoncé’s suburban voice buffs out any edge the groove built up in the first half of the song, but it’s a testament to Renaissance’s team of producers that the track isn’t a total loss.
In an interview with Vanity Fair last year, Beyonce said “I think we are all ready to escape, travel, love and laugh again,” and that’s exactly what this album is about – it’s safe to self-indulge again.
Beyonce photo: LP Cover Art