CD of the week: Beyonce, B-Day

CD of the week: Beyonce's cracking new album, B-Day, is studded with party tunes, says Kitty Empire.

(Sony BMG) £12.99

According to the PR puff that accompanies B-Day, no one was expecting Beyonce to come up with an album so soon - not her label, nor her father (who is also her manager). Last spring, the former Destiny's Child finished filming Dreamgirls, a mildly fictionalised movie about a girl group (oh, hell, let's call them the Supremes) beset by internal jealousies and worse.

Instead of going on a post-wrap holiday, Beyonce remained in character and secretly summoned a clutch of tip-top producers - Rich Harrison (he of 'Crazy in Love'), Rodney Jerkins and hip hop whiz Swizz Beatz - into the studio.

Clearly, playing a notoriously ambitious girl-group veteran must have struck a chord in this notoriously ambitious girl-group veteran. Out of the other end of these three-week sessions has come a cracking album, more cogent and studded with party tunes than Dangerously in Love, her 2003 solo debut. Released on Knowles's birthday, 4 September, B-Day's title also sounds like a certain continental bot-bath, which ought to make asking for it in the shops of St Tropez a hoot.

Beyonce's French improves on 'Deja Vu', the hysterically pitched number one club hit whose most obvious antecedent is 'Crazy in Love'. It's the start of a volley of sexpot-scorned R&B largely unsullied by ballads. You normally have to wade through slicks of the gushy stuff on Beyonce's records, but here it's nine tracks before she pauses for breath.

That pause, 'Irreplaceable', is the next single, but it stands out like a goitre among the slinky double-dutch beats. This full-on guitar ballad will, nevertheless, be inescapable around Christmas. 'Listen', meanwhile, is the kind of Andrew Lloyd Webber-calibre piano weepie Beyonce probably feels emotionally aligned to. And that's it. It's a bangers-to-ballads ratio to die for.

The rest of the time, Knowles rides the baddest bass her producers can rig up and flounces around like a Bond girl taming crocodiles. In particular, 'Ring the Alarm' finds Swizz Beatz marrying air-raid sirens and Tourette's beats while Beyonce hollers 'Damned if I see another woman on your arm!'

How apt it is that the notoriously glassy-eyed and unknowable Knowles should sound so engaged while ostensibly playing someone else.

The GuardianTramp

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