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Thursday, May 23, 2024
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BLAIR CALDWELL | Parkwood Entertainment

Beyoncé rides high on ‘Cowboy Carter’

Beyoncé proves reinvention can be incredibly revealing on her eighth studio album.

Over the past decade, one thing has been made abundantly clear: Beyoncé dropping an album is not just a musical event. It’s a cultural event. 

From the surprise midnight drop of her self-titled album to the internet-wide Mute Challenge of “Renaissance,” each release cycle seems to snowball into something grander than the last. “Cowboy Carter” is no different, a bold stylistic left turn surrounded by intrigue and controversy. 

At its heart, “Cowboy Carter” is an album about belonging: belonging in a relationship, a family, an industry, a genre and America. Beyoncé described in an Instagram post the inciting incident for the album’s creation as a situation in which she felt deeply unwelcomed, a comment many believe refers to the racist backlash she received after performing at the 2016 Country Music Awards. In many ways, “Cowboy Carter” is an unflinching response, chronicling both the Black Americans who founded country music as well as the Black Americans continuing to reinvent country music today. 

To call “Cowboy Carter” a country album is an oversimplification and goes against much of the album’s commentary on genre division. Over the 27-song tracklist, Beyoncé weaves a rich musical tapestry, stringing together elements of folk, Americana, rock, hip-hop and even Brazilian phonk. Consistently dynamic and unpredictable, “Cowboy Carter” never settles in one place. 

“16 CARRIAGES” is an early standout, a wistful ballad elevated to epic proportions. Tidal waves of instrumentation crash against Beyoncé’s lyrics of exhaustion and homesickness, an effect that is equal parts cathartic and cinematic. “BODYGUARD” is a jangly slice of Fleetwood Mac-inspired rock, so flirtatious it nearly turns dangerous. 

Spiny with sharp lyricism, the introspective “DAUGHTER” holds the tension of a Wild West standoff. The opera section closing out the song is arguably Beyoncé’s shining vocal moment on the entire record. And the album’s most political and playful song — the Nancy Sinatra-sampling “YA YA” — is a capital-A anthem shivering with energy like a rattlesnake tail.

Beyond its highlights, “Cowboy Carter” is a well-oiled machine, gaining momentum until the very last song. In a press release from Parkwood Entertainment, Beyoncé revealed that “Cowboy Carter” was initially planned to be released before her 2022 album “Renaissance.” Hearing the musical influence of “Renaissance” slowly creep in from the electronic lullaby of “II HANDS II HEAVEN” to the Jersey Club rattle of “SWEET ★ HONEY ★ BUCKIIN” makes the final stretch of “Cowboy Carter” possibly its most captivating.

With a runtime of one hour and 18 minutes, “Cowboy Carter” could have benefitted from a stricter hand in editing. While no song derails the album’s momentum, some do nothing to propel the momentum forward. Clocking in at under a minute, “MY ROSE” feels more like a sketch than a fully developed song. The sentimental “PROTECTOR” is weakened by proximity, so saccharinely sweet it pales in comparison to the ballads preceding it. And while “JOLENE” is a fun reimagining of Dolly Parton’s hit, the longer one sits with Beyoncé’s warnings for a female adversary to stay away from her man, the more misplaced — and, frankly, cringe-worthy — the warnings become.

But at eight studio albums deep into her career, a tad overambitious is a commendable place for Beyoncé to be. “Cowboy Carter” is a wide-open range of musical exploration that unveils an array of personal revelations along the way. After all, as stated in the album announcement, “This ain’t a country album. This is a Beyoncé album.” 

Ride on, Cowboy Carter.

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