Beyonce Shows Drake How to Make a Good Dance Album – Favorite New & Old Tracks of the Week

“Renaissance” by Beyonce album cover art [Parkwood; Columbia Records]; Rage Against the Machine live 2010 [photo by Christie Goodwin]

Thank god this Beyonce album is good. Entering literally any club in East London was going to be insufferable for the next year if it wasn’t.

Other artists had the misfortune of dropping new music the same week as Beyonce – RIP to the first week sales of the following honorable mentions for my favorite new track of the week:

Synthpop veterans Hot Chip released the title track to “Freakout/Release” their latest LP due out next month. This track leans a bit more abrasive than usual, for a mixed result. The band wears slightly edgy well, but the industrial touches on the hook take away from a really nice groove that was building.

Childish Gambino bites an Andre 3000 flow on “I Love You More Than You Know”, a collab with bLAck pARty. Unoriginal or not, it’s the highlight of the sleepy love song, complimented well by the slick guitar licks buried underneath the drums.

I’m not a big fan of covers, especially modern singers covering other modern singers. Remi Wolf recorded one of Frank Ocean’s “Pink + White” as part of her “Live At Electric Lady” EP, and her idiosyncratic performance style actually made for an interesting take on the song.

I hunted for any reason to like “Surrender” more than I do. Maggie Rogers’ vocal performances are strong from front to back, her always sharp songwriting feels less inhibited than on past records. Everything else about the album lets her down. The wall of sound production style often sounds more like wall of nothing, any and all dynamism or interesting instrumentation completely stripped from the music. Maggie really fends for herself on these songs, and the album is much worse off for it. “Shatter” was my favorite deep cut, again mostly thanks to Rogers’ performance.

Favorite New Track of the Week: “Cuff It” by Beyonce

I hated “Break My Soul”. Still do.

I’ve also enjoyed Beyonce’s music the most when she’s topically focused. I grew up on “B Day” and “I am… Sasha Fierce” but “Lemonade” is probably the only one of her albums I’d say I like start to finish.

So I didn’t have high expectations for a house album by Beyonce. Especially after the effort (or complete lack of) we got from Drake a couple weeks ago.

Luckily, “Renaissance” is not a house album – not entirely. Queen Bey dips in and out of various dance styles, from disco to dancehall to afrobeat, with much better results than the house tracks like “BREAK MY SOUL” or “THIQUE”.

“I’M THAT GIRL” is a slick dancehall opener, one of the few understated moments on the record before a late beat switch transitions into the more energetic “COZY”.

“ALIEN SUPERSTAR” doesn’t quite keep up that energy or quality, but the album really hits its stride after that. The middle stretch from Disco cut “CUFF IT” – my favorite track of the week – though to “HEATED” is banger after banger (except “BREAK MY SOUL”, still trash).

Unfortunately, “Renaissance” falls off a cliff towards the end of the tracklist. There’s the aforementioned dud “THIQUE”, “ALL UP IN YOUR MIND” is a complete mess, “AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM” is just nothing. “PURE/HONEY” tries to do too much.

“SUMMER RENAISSANCE” is fine, which is not what you want to be saying about a closing track to one of the biggest releases of the year.

Still, this album is better than it should’ve been. It’s nice to hear a AAA artist actually using the endless resources at their disposable and crafting a well-produced album.

Favorite Old Track of the Week: “Testify” by Rage Against the Machine

Someone asked me the classic ‘if you could see anyone live, dead or alive, who would it be?’ question this week.

Jeff Buckley immediately came to mind. Prince, Queen, Miles Davis, Led Zeppelin.

Surprisingly I also thought of Rage Against the Machine circa 1992.

One of the easiest ways to make me stop taking you seriously is unironically saying ‘I was born in the wrong decade’.

That being said, there are plenty of artists I wish I’d been around to see the heyday of.

Just in the 90’s there’s the aforementioned Jeff Buckley or Nirvana, who stand above the rest. Rage Against the Machine aren’t too far behind on that list though.

They’ve had a few comebacks in the 21st century, yes. Their ethos and sound is so deeply rooted in youth though, that things haven’t been quite the same.

It seems like the band would admit that themselves. They haven’t released an album since their initial break-up in 2000, only sporadically touring instead of spending time in the studio.

That’s probably for the best. Once Rage left the scene, the Funk-Metal, rap-rock sound they helped pioneer died off pretty quickly. The genre just isn’t built to produce deep discographies, with the best bands burning out quickly rather than sticking around to become dad-rock.

My answer to that question is probably not Rage Against the Machine. Maybe if I let the edgy kid in me take over.

But if I had a time machine, I’d definitely end up in a mosh pit at a RATM show. At the peak of their powers, I’m not sure you could’ve heard “Testify” live and not jumped in one.

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