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Beyonce's 'Beyonce': What the Critics Are Saying

Yonce Music Video Beyonce - H 2013
iTunes
Beyonce in her "Yonce" music video.

UPDATED: The superstar singer surprised fans with the release of her fifth studio album, which includes a music video for every track, without any traditional announcements or promotion.

Just when you thought Beyonce was done with 2013, the show-stopping singer released her fifth studio album on iTunes at midnight without any marketing or promo gimmicks -- pulling off one of the most unexpected stunts of the year. If anyone can do that, it's Queen B.

The self-titled album, Beyonce, features 14 new singles and 17 music videos along with contributions from husband Jay Z, Drake, Frank Ocean and her daughter, Blue Ivy. As she explains in a video posted on her Facebook page, she decided to accompany every song with a moving visual because music is more than what she hears.

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"When I'm connected to something, I immediately see a visual or a series of images that are tied to a feeling or an emotion. A memory from my childhood. Thoughts about life. My dream or my fantasies," Bey explains in the three-minute clip. "And they're all connected to the music. And I think it's one of the reasons why I wanted to do a visual album. I wanted people to hear the songs with the story that's in my head, 'cause that's what makes it mine. That vision in my brain is what I wanted people to experience the first time."

Less than 24 hours since the album dropped, Beyonce has got the whole world listening and looking into her world.

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Here's what critics are saying:

In a track-by-track review, Billboard's Andrew Hampp and Erika Ramirez call "Drunk In Love" a "potential smash," while the video for "Haunted," a "spine-tinglingly glam Madonna-meets-American Horror Story, is worth Beyonce's case for making this a simultaneous visual-and-audio experience alone. But divorced from those powerful visuals, "Haunted" still emerges as one of Beyonce's strongest tracks -- and most insightful in terms of how she chooses to run her own business." The writers gave the album overall a Billboard rating of 90 out of 100.

USA Today's Korina Lopez writes how the album "could be her most personal yet." With each song's corresponding music video, Lopez says, "Beyonce is not a scantily clad, cold and removed pop star; she's a smiling, relaxed mother. Awash in soft light and with scenes of her and Blue Ivy, the songs and videos stand in stark contrast with the harder tracks on the album."

Jim Farber from the New York Daily News mentions how one of the album's tunes sounds like something from Phil Collins in the early '80s. "The mood draws on the warmth and mystery of trance music, enveloped in an echo," writes Farber. He also adds how the last single ("Blue," featuring Blue Ivy) adds "some vintage Marvin Gaye eroticism to the melody without resorting to recycling his sound."

New York Times' Jon Pareles details the songs as being "steamy and sleek, full of erotic exploits and sultry vocals; every so often, for variety, they turn vulnerable, compassionate or pro-feminist." Simply put, the reviewer writes: "Beyonce is flawless so no one else has to be."

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Kitty Empire of The Guardian finds the surprise comes from "the format, not the delivery," with each song including its own video, which Empire describes as having a "lush porny luxe (or, indeed, luxe porny pushness)" vibe. The critic notes how certain tracks remind her of M.I.A. ("Yonce") and Rihanna ("Mine," featuring Drake), concluding that, "Beyonce's vocals span some squeaky sexed-up falsettos, hood rat rapping, wordless ecstasies and effortless swoops."

The Telegraph UK 's Neil McCormick is impressed by the singer's latest offering, describing the album as "sexy and smart, with a stripped back modernity that allows the character in her voice to flourish, and stamped with visual wit and swagger." McCormick, intrigued by the songs' lack of structure, writes how "it feels like a strategy rather than a failing. When a chorus does appear, singer and listener alike wrap themselves around it with a sense of relief that, judging by the videos, is intended to be orgasmic."

While The Independent UK's Andy Gill enjoyed the single, "Pretty Hurts," he criticized the rest of the album as being "the same kind of electro R&B with which radio is already awash -- in large part because it's produced by the same small coterie of hip producers, with Timbaland appearing to take the most prominent role amongst the likes of Detail, Jerome Harmon, Pharrell Williams and Ryan Tedder."