BEYONCE: Renaissance (Columbia)
Verdict: Euphoric dance mix
CALVIN HARRIS: Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2 (Columbia)
Verdict: softer club sounds
HEATHER SMALL: Color My Life (Warner)
Verdict: Pop soul with an orchestral spin
Summer is here and the time has come to dance… in the streets, kitchens, festival fields and nightclubs.
Since the beginning of June there are new albums from Drake, Lizzo and Mabel with their sights on those disco mirror balls. Now Beyoncé is joining the party after the lockdown.
The last time the Texan released a solo album, six years ago, she delivered a “visual” collection of cinematic videos to accompany each song. She described the record, Lemonade, as “a conceptual project based on every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing.”
There is no such preamble with Renaissance. Responsibility rests with the music, although its release, on its way to the top of today’s charts, was overshadowed this week by the controversy surrounding the song Heated, which originally contained a capable slur.
The track has since been re-recorded minus the hurtful language, which Beyonce’s publicist says was not intentionally used, although it’s notable that no one in her camp has seen the insult, as Lizzo re-recorded a track, Grrrls, for the same reason. months ago.
Adjusting the lyrics to Heated — and removing a chorus from Kelis’ Milkshake on another song, Energy, after 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 cover shows her in Lady Godiva pose atop a crystal horse, with strategically placed jewels and her cascading locks to protect her modesty
Released with no advance notice sent to reviewers, it’s a euphoric dance celebration that puts Beyonce’s smooth voice on backing tracks channeling ’70s disco, ’80s electronica, and ’90s house.
She describes it as a record ‘free from perfectionism and overthinking’, and it certainly allows her to let her hair loose – quite literally on an LP cover that shows her in Lady Godiva pose on a crystal horse, with only strategically placed jewels and her cascading locks to protect her modesty.
After making a name for herself with the R&B trio Destiny’s Child, Beyonce has become more adventurous with each release and the 16 songs here are on the money, in terms of musical trends.
Her business is also aided by some of the brightest employees money can buy. American producers Tricky Stewart and Terius ‘The-Dream’ Nash contribute.
Cuff It is enhanced by Chic’s Nile Rodgers’ guitar and R&B star Raphael Saadiq’s funky clavinet.
With songs merging into each other, it’s an hour-long whirlwind worth listening to in full.
There was controversy surrounding the song Heated, which originally featured a skillful slur
We open smoothly, with soul ballad I’m That Girl, before the album picks up the pace: Alien Superstar takes Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy and reforms it into a bootylicious hymn to Queen Bey. “I’m too stylish for this world…I’m too stylish to be touched,” she sings.
A softer center section includes Church Girl and the devious 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 lesser-known collaborators (as well as Bennett, there’s a cameo from British producer Alexander Guy Cook, who artsy electronics to All Up In Your Mind). There is also, on Move, a fiery rap battle between Beyonce and Grace Jones, a clash of the Titans that ends in an honorable draw.
Jones, in her autobiography I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, appeared to criticize 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 claims that “no one can judge me but me” about Church Girl, but her mission generally seems to involve being of good cheer. “Pretty girls on the floor,” she urges Pure/Honey.
She ends, on Summer Renaissance, by sampling Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, a single that has inspired musicians since Simple Minds persuaded them to turn down the guitars and immerse themselves in electronics in the 1980s.
Beyonce’s version is too close to comfort on a straight sleeve, but it shows the lasting appeal of a club classic.
If you’re looking for a summery tonic from one of the biggest music stars, she’s the 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 upon to rock any party. Scoring hits with Rihanna (We Found Love), Dizzee Rascal (Dance Wiv Me) and Rag’n’Bone Man (Giant), the Scottish musician and DJ is calling on an impressive gallery of great friends to play on the second volume of his Funk Wav Bounces Series.
“Welcome to the place where people are having a good time,” says easygoing rapper Snoop Dogg on Live My Best Life, capturing the atmosphere of an album that’s lively and mellow, expertly stitched together by Harris’ smooth production. and understanding of the importance of a good groove that comes from his career as a DJ.
As in the 2017 opening chapter, he generally eschews electronic rhythms in favor 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 its guests – and Dua Lipa, Stefflon Don, Halsey and Pharrell Williams are among those to benefit from this.
Lipa duets with American rapper Young Thug on the melodic Potion, and Justin Timberlake repeats his mastery of song and dance on Stay With Me.
Jorja Smith adds jazzier to Somebody Else, and former Fifth Harmony member Normani teams up with Tinashe and Offset on the hypnotic New To You – a stylish highlight.
Heather Small released her first album in over 15 years called Color My Life
Dance music also lends itself surprisingly well to the classical treatment, as demonstrated by the success of Pete Tong’s albums Classic House and Ibiza Classics. The latest singer to give her biggest songs a symphonic twist is ex-M People singer Heather Small. Color My Life, her first album in 16 years, combines her deep, pop-soul voice with the London Metropolitan Orchestra.
Klein is a warm, feel-good presence and the new arrangements work well (despite a few missteps). How Can I Love You More is more soulful now, although the house music energy of the original has been lost, while Search For The Hero was an empowering anthem before it became a pop chapter. Small’s career has stalled over the past decade. This may be just the padding she needs.
Heather Small will perform at Soultown Festival, London, on September 3rd (soultownfestival.com).