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Beyoncé the Valley of the Dolls

 

Beyoncé: Dangerously in Love

Sony, 2003

Rating: 3.8

 

 

Posted: July 1, 2003

By Laurence Station

Beyoncé Knowles was born in 1981, the same year as Britney Spears and nearly a full year after Christina Aguilera. And yet she seems considerably more mature than either of those former Mouseketeers (one stuck in perpetual "Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" mode, the other apparently more interested in exhibitionism than an actual singing career). Perhaps it has to do with spending time in Destiny's Child, learning how to deal with success as part of something larger than herself. Or maybe it's simply a matter of how Beyoncé carries herself: confident without being arrogant, self-assured without appearing too self-serious (are you Mouse girls listening?).

Whatever the reason, this 21-year-old stands poised to make the leap from successful R&B girl group lead to a full-fledged superstar whose wattage threatens to outshine any of her age-group contemporaries. On Dangerously in Love, her solo debut, Beyoncé reveals a heretofore-unseen range of depth and musical styles. And unlike other pop or soul singers, it shows her confident enough in her ability that she doesn't have to stretch notes like they were taffy to prove her chops. Beyoncé lets the vibe dictate her approach, never once bowing to the Mariah Carey-ish temptation to stamp her forceful personality all over the proceedings. And that small difference makes for one of the most refreshing modern R&B records from a diva-ascendant in a long time.

Unsurprisingly, Dangerously in Love is front-loaded with the most commanding tracks. "Crazy In Love," featuring Jay-Z, is easily the album's peak, its uplifting chorus seamlessly coupled with an inspiring horn section as Knowles and Mr. Carter celebrate their passionate union. The racy, up-tempo "Naughty Girl" trades on the familiar disco-era Donna Summer hit "Love to Love You Baby" and the crack production skills of Scott Storch (whose credits include tracks by Busta Rhymes, Dr. Dre and Aguilera) to create an infectious mix of old-meets-new dance grooves. "Baby Boy" sports the distinctive reggae rapping of Sean Paul -- a perfect example of Knowles trusting her collaborators, not worrying about her vocal contribution vanishing beneath the final mix. Finally, there's "Hip Hop Star," highlighted by OutKast's Big Boi ("Everybody got a little Rick James in they veins") and fellow Dungeon Family member Sleepy Brown's smooth raps.

This opening burst stacks the deck against the remainder of Dangerously in Love. While that move doesn't prove crippling, it does considerably lessen the album's overall impact. The main problem is too many unimaginative R&B in love/out of love ballads: The slow burn of "Be With You" handles itself well, especially contrasted with the wide variety of styles exhibited during the first half. But the material sounds stale by the time the too familiar "Yes" and "Speechless" roll around. "The Closer I Get to You," Knowles' duet with recent chart-topper Luther Vandross, doesn't improve on the 1978 version popularized by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, and indeed is more filler than thriller. The absolute low point, however, is "Signs," featuring Missy Elliott, whose formidable skills are frustratingly wasted on this trite, piano-backed run through the horoscope in a shallow search for that perfect partner. The stars are definitely not in alignment on this dud.

Despite fading down the stretch, however, Dangerously in Love impressively covers a lot of ground without seeming too scattershot or overblown. And though the album serves up more than its fair share of misfires, the overall production values and savvy choice of guest stars help to elevate it from innocuous remainder bin filler-candidate to a substantial statement of purpose from its still astonishingly young, but clearly wise-beyond-her-years, star.

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Beyonce

   

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