Beyoncé Knowles’ debut solo album showcases her in two styles, one far more flattering than the other. “Crazy in Love,” the opening track, roars out of the speakers on the strength of a propulsive horn sample and the charged presence of her pal, Jay-Z. In that cauldron of energy, Beyoncé sounds loose and sexy, gripped by emotions she can neither understand nor control. In contrast, Dangerously in Love closes with “Daddy,” a “hidden,” five-minute tribute to her manager-father that is an anthology of vocal and lyrical cliches (“I want my unborn son/To be like my daddy”). While she oozes charisma and has a fine voice, Beyoncé isn’t in a class with the likes of Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey as a singer, a fact that “The Closer I Get to You,” her duet with the effortlessly smooth Luther Vandross, also makes clear.
But the club tracks on Dangerously in Love burn — particularly “Baby Boy,” which the irrepressible Sean Paul lights up — all the more so because she sounds like she’s having fun on them. Just twenty-one, Beyoncé has plenty of time to develop a mature ballad style that makes sense for her. For now, she’s more compelling when she’s not trying so earnestly to act like a grownup.