Robert Christgau:
Expert Witness

Beyoncé / D’Angelo


Beyoncé: Beyoncé (Platinum Edition)

(Columbia)

Set me back 30 bucks, but shit—the box itself has a nice velvety feel. True, the booklet collects 20 video stills that squeeze the credits onto a single pink-on-black page, the 2015 calendar shows off a mostly b&w pin-up girl whose cunningly unkempt designer outfits we’ll meet again when we get to the videos, and the elaborately overworked videos themselves should be approached with extreme caution—after you know the music, please. But where most live DVDs are de trop, this one rules, not just for Ms. Knowles’s legendary stage discipline and expert dance routines but for a star-time visage further beautified by how readily it projects empathy, humor, and fun to fans who get it all. And of course, the reason to forswear the videos is to give the songs time to breathe, which they will—especially but not exclusively the sex sequence, which over seven well-differentiated tracks performs the unlikely feat of conveying an open-ended eroticism that varies because Mrs. Carter knows eroticism does, for each of us in our individual responses as well as for her. So let’s agree that Queen Bey is at best a useful metaphor—when she tries to sing the part and gets all regal on our ass, her majesty quickly becomes a bore. Representing lust, on the other hand, loosens her up. Enter the bonus disc called “More”: filthier “Drunk in Love,” nastier “Flawless,” cuter “Blow,” high-rolling party song “7/11,” Caribbean outtake “Standing in the Sun,” and the sisterly, daughterly “Ring Off,” in which the queen mother leaves her doggish husband and about time too. Best Bey ever. A


D’Angelo and the Vanguard:
Black Messiah

(RCA)

Comparisons to Sly’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On pertain—like that end-of-year funk bombshell, this music is disruptive, a little forbidding. But a-b the two albums and recall or discover how much cleaner music was supposed to sound in 1971. Proudly antidigital though he may be, D’Angelo knows damn well that he’s competing in a funk soundscape epitomized for the nonce by the dense computerized pastiche of Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy—a soundscape in which gearhead murk and gorgeous complexity coexist a tweak or two apart. His response, almost as far from Voodoo as Riot was from Stand!, is a thick, sui generis jazz-funk in which Questlove and Pino Palladino avant around with the kind of bottom they already change up as flexibly as anyone in the pop sphere while guitarist Isaiah Sharkey and horn maestro Roy Hargrove interject from the jazz side. Instrumentally, it’s more virtuosic, more surprising, more conceptual, and more physical than Riot’s “Africa” jams. But D’Angelo isn’t just being conceptual when he buries his murmurs, moans, pleas, regrets, and imprecations so deep in the mix that the words are indecipherable, because not a song here stands as tall as “Family Affair,” “Just Like a Baby,” or “You Caught Me Smilin’.” Which is to say that the talk about how profoundly D’Angelo articulates his racial awareness and romantic struggle is mostly guff, although both are certainly present. I’m very glad this album finally came. But I also very much hope there are more. Because it’s distinctly possible that he has more to tell us. A MINUS



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Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter at @rxgau.
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