QUEEN of R&B, Beyoncé, shocked the UK when she released her self-titled 5th album, with no prior warning or promotion. Beyoncé’s surprise album, BEYONCÉ, is X-rated, sensuous and thoughtful, says Neil McCormick, putting Beyoncé’s vocal gifts put the rest of 2013’s pop stars in the shade. The self proclaimed “visual album”, features 14 original tracks as well as 17 videos, a video for each track and extras, such as a new video for Pepsi’s promo single, “Grown Woman”, a revamped version, featuring her long time friend, and band mate, Kelly Rowland, and her mother, Tina Knowles. The album also has features from husband Jay Z, rapper Drake, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Frank Ocean, who has also written Beyoncé’s “I Miss You” and her one year old child, Blue Ivy.

Below is a run down of my opinions on each track, as well as stills from her music videos.

PRETTY HURTS: Bey begins with an inspirational song, basically stating how the only thing that she aspires for in life is to be happy. This song is an amazing empowering song for the insecure, and for those who feel as if they’re not good enough. The supporting video is very emotional, and is definitely one of her best and most personal video of her career, covering topics such as body image and creating a discussion on the amount of pressure girls are put under regarding the idea of “perfection”.

HAUNTED: Starts with a younger Beyonce accepting an award, thanking her parents and, of course, her beloved H-town. In the track, she talks about hating record labels and how this album won’t sell. Only time will tell if her prophecy comes true, as predictions are coming in at the fact that BEYONCÉ is expected to sell 200k+ copies within just 4 days. The unexpected dance beat in the middle of the song is a welcome surprise and caught myself dancing along the beat while reviewing the song.

DRUNK IN LOVE (FEAT. JAY Z): What a difference 10 years make! In 2003, Bey and Jay were “Crazy in Love,” but now it appears as though they’ve gotten a bit more grown and sexy on this track. Personally, I’m a bigger fan of the former, however, it’s probably due to the fact that I’ve become accustomed to the beats and moves of “Crazy In Love”, that I expected something up tempo from their collaboration.

BLOW: This Timbaland-produced track has a groovy sound that’s easy to listen and dance to. It’s also a little risque with the refrain “I want you to turn that cherry out.” May be provocative to come from some artists, Bey manages to keep it classy.

NO ANGEL: More groove than actual song, this is another sexy slow jam, with a stripped-back hip-hop beat and a vocal flipping sensuously between breathy falsetto and deep come-on. “Tell me do you wanna ride?” She’s not going to win awards for lyrical subtlety.

PARTITION: This album is full of sexual desire, and “Partition” doesn’t disappoint. This one makes for a fun going-out-with-the-girls pre-game song. An electro-throbbing track with a Rihanna-style Caribbean hip-hop flavour, it builds into a slinky club groove with Beyoncé supplicating herself before her apparently uninterested husband: “Take all of me, I just wanna be the girl you like.” What happened to the Independent Woman? “I sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker.” Yes, that just happened.

JEALOUS: “I cooked this meal for you naked, so where the hell you at?” Beyoncé’s latest batch of songs leaves even less to the imagination than her saucy videos. A slow, distorted, echoing sound builds without quite achieving lift off, yet there is something impressively dramatic about the restraint she maintains in a song of emotional tension. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…especially if that woman is Beyonce. Say hello to “If I Were A Boy” 2.0.

ROCKET: Warning: This song is only for the grown and sexy. If you’re looking for a “special song” to surprise your significant other with a “special performance,” here you go. “Let me sit this ass on you”. Oh well, if you insist. Another slow jam sex song accompanied by shots of Beyoncé writhing on a bed. Timbaland and Justin Timberlake are credited as co-writers on this and several tracks – perhaps deemed superfluous to Timberlake’s own comeback earlier this year. Not much of a song but a very naughty video. At this point in the album, I’m personally a little over hearing about Bey’s sex life.

MINE (FEAT. DRAKE): An intriguing song about delayed gratification, it starts as a piano ballad, adds a speedy hip-hop beat and keeps threatening to burst into a monster groove without ever quite exploding. Sex goes on the backburner in a lyric dealing quite explicitly with post-maternity relationship problems: “I’m not feeling myself since the baby, are we gonna even make it?” An oddly structured yet compelling track, with a satisfying contribution from Drake. The few guests on Beyoncé’s album are very well chosen. This track is quintessential emo Drizzy with a bit of Bey mixed in, which actually works in a weird sort of way.

XO: After all the sexed-up slow jams and spaced-out ambient beats this comes as a sugary relief, a straight-up pop anthem written with serial hitmaker Ryan Tedder. Even the video has a happy innocence, with Beyoncé and her girls running loose in a fairground. I can see this crowd-participation song making a good encore at the Mrs. Carter World Tour, which has been extended into 2014, in case you missed the memo.

***FLAWLESS (FEAT. CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHE): Punchy off-beat hip-hop blast. Not quite sure how Beyoncé squares her aggressive “Bow down b—-es” hook with the feminist empowerment speech of Nigerian author Adichie, but it’s pleasingly weird. Think “Run the World (Girls)” on steroids.

SUPERPOWER (FEAT. FRANK OCEAN): Ocean penned “I Miss You” on Bey’s album, so it’s only right that the two collaborate on her latest release. A stand-out track, as might be expected from collaborators Frank Ocean and Pharell Williams. With a doo wop vocal undercurrent, string washes and orchestral drum rolls, the backing is like listening to an unusually restrained Phil Spector production through a digital future prism. Like most of the songs on the album it never quite takes off, as if restraint was the watchword.  I’m really digging this simplistic love song.

HEAVEN: This is just speculation, but after watching Beyonce’s HBO documentary earlier this year I can’t help but wonder if this song is in honor of the baby she lost to a miscarriage? With lyrics such as “heaven couldn’t wait for you/so go on, go home” this is definitely the most sentimental track on the album. It’s the album’s only straight ballad with simple piano chords and a tearjerking vocal about the death of a loved one. Despite the gospel hints, Beyoncé keeps it tight and close rather than big and blousy.

BLUE (FEAT. BLUE IVY): Opens, like several other tracks, on simple piano chords, and gradually develops into something groovier. There’s a lovely transition to the beat with Beyoncé’s voice high and sweet, almost fragile in its exposure, that sounds just right on a song about parental love. Toddler Blue Ivy makes one of those cutesy guest appearances that will either make you go “aww”, or make you throw up.





Overall, this has instantly grown on me, and has become my favourite release from Beyoncé, and would give this album  9/10 VS faces.