On the most arresting moments of her second solo album —including the anguished, Sixties-tinged ballad "Resentment" and the punk-R&B single "Ring the Alarm" —Beyonce sings with enough frantic, quavering intensity to make you believe she really is crazy in love. But in a spoken-word segment, B notes that this disc (which was inspired by her character in the upcoming musical Dreamgirls) came "effortlessly," and that's sometimes all too clear: While the mostly up-tempo disc never lacks for energy, some of the more beat-driven tracks (such as the throwaway "Freakum Dress") feel harmonically and melodically undercooked, with hooks that don't live up to "Crazy in Love" or the best Destiny's Child hits. But there is endless pleasure in the gliding transitions from Jay-Z's staccato rhymes to Beyonce's own honeyed flow, and there's plenty of seductive wit and charming Independent Woman feminism here. Over a blues-guitar sample on the Rich Harrison-produced "Suga Mama," Beyonce offers both herself and her checkbook: "Baby, what you want me to buy?/My accountant's waiting on the phone." B'day should keep her bank balance high.
- Sony Music Distribution
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