With just a few middle-of-the-night hours to go from shock to serious thinking, just like the rest of us, the world's music critics were totally taken off guard by the surprise release of Beyoncé's Beyoncé album on Friday morning (December 13).
The singer's fifth solo collection came locked and loaded with 14 tracks and 17 fully-realized music videos, at once answering the question of when we'd finally get her long-in-the-works latest and what it takes to totally change the game.
Shaking the sleep out of their eyes, critics seemed generally enthused about the sex-obsessed collection, which finds Bey taking on everything from body image to baby Blue Ivy and sex with hubby Jay Z. Lots of it.
So, what was the verdict? Here are some early reviews:
A Feast For The Eyes And Ears
"On her surprise fifth studio album ... Beyoncé reveals more than just her amazing post-baby body and showstopper videos ... With 14 brand new tracks and 17 videos, it's a fully baked album, no filler remixes and re-released greatest hits. And sidestepping a promotional blitz and gimmicks, this album ... could be her most personal yet."
Critic Korina Lopez praised songs like "Ghost" for shedding light on her career frustrations and "Drunk in Love" for being a more hammered, lascivious follow up to Jay and Bey's "Crazy in Love" smash. "Beyoncé is a feast for the eyes and the ears, and it's a revealing look at Beyoncé, from Beyoncé's point of view." — Korina Lopez, USA Today
Thanks For Late Addition To 'Best Of' Lists, Santa Bey!
"Beyoncé mainly features futuristic, sometimes tribal, mid-tempo tracks from songwriters and producers Timbaland, Pharrell, Frank Ocean, Justin Timberlake, The-Dream, Hit-Boy and others. Many songs shift midway through, abandoning original ideas for altogether different grooves like Donna Summer disco classics of old or Timberlake's recent 20/20 Experience records. Sex is blatantly on the table too, in a way that may put Miss Carter's sterling role model reputation at risk."
As "Rocket" rides a "slinky-smooth, Prince-like" groove from Timbaland, the "pop and hiss of old-school vinyl can literally be heard right before the bridge begins. It's the elegant sexiness of a good girl going bad ... a highlight on an album full of more stellar moments than anything she's done since 2006's B'Day.Writer Miles Marshall Lewis counsels his peers to hold all their "best of" lists because, in his opinion, Beyoncé "easily bests the latest from both Lady Gaga and Britney Spears, rivaling Justin Timberlake with a fraction of the media blitz (so far). Now that's a superpower."
— Miles Marshall Lewis, Ebony
Best Kept Musical Secret Ever
"The NSA could learn a thing or two about leak proofing from Beyoncé [which is] obviously a coup on another front. It arrived with a press release touting its surprise unveiling as a relief from the usual multi-week-long PR-blitz rollouts of major albums ... My overall feeling, after a couple of listens: on balance, a very fine record." Among the highlights: the Sia-co-written "Pretty Hurts," with its big, robust chorus that B was born to sing, the "beatific neo-disco" anthem "Blow" and "No Angel," a "very pretty showcase for Beyoncé's falsetto." — Jody Rosen, Vulture
Sexy, Smart Swagger
"[Beyoncé] is an event album worthy of her superstar status: it's sexy and smart, with a stripped back modernity that allows the character in her voice to flourish, and stamped with visual wit and swagger. It is also rude enough to make young Beyoncé fans and their parents weak at the knees, although possibly for different reasons ... For all its length and elaborate staging (with videos for every song), the album has a focus and intensity unusual in multi-writer ensemble productions, a sense of purposefulness that holds the attention even when the songs sometimes drift off in search of a chorus. ...
The beats exhibit a similar quality of restraint. The sound of the album is spaced-out electro R'n'B, with subdued pulses, ambient effects and throbbing grooves that sneak up on you, threatening to explode but only occasionally transforming into full-blown dancehall stormers." Saying the sensuous lyrics make it perhaps the "rudest mainstream pop album since Madonna's Erotica," Neil McCormick paints the post-motherhood Queen B as a woman ready to assert her "adult credentials." — Neil McCormick, Vulture