Tuesday 2 April 2024

Review of ‘Cowboy Carter’ by Beyonce

Cowboy Carter stretches the definition of ‘country’. Which is no bad thing, as I’m not the biggest country fan.

Beyonce has gone full King Gizzard. Her 2022 album Renaissance saw her switching to a more dance-oriented sound (which she pulled off a lot better than Drake). Now she’s dropped a country album. What next? A rock album? A jazz album? And will all the album covers have her sitting on a horse in increasingly more awkward poses?

Hold your horses, Alasdair. As exciting as the idea is of harsh noise Bey handstanding on a horse, we’re here to talk about Cowboy Carter - which despite the cowboy-clothed promo photos and features from Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson is ‘not a country album’ according to Beyonce herself. And she’s right. There’s definitely country music flavours all across it. But we also get a cover of the Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’, a Thundercat-esque slice of pure funk titled ‘Desert Eagle’, two kick-heavy rap tracks featuring Shaboozey and even Beyonce doing opera on ‘Daughter’.

As someone who’s never been much of a country fan beyond a few classics, this is a relief. I was worried all the tracks were going to be like lead single ‘Texas Hold ‘Em’ – a stomp-clap-whistle anthem that I didn’t mind at first, but that I’ve slowly grown to despise. It’s a lot more interesting than your average Garth Brooks song, but it also embraces every country cliché to the point that it feels nauseatingly contrived. Bey is a much more exciting artist when she’s experimenting with her voice and hopping on adventurous production that isn’t neatly categorised into a genre. And that’s why Cowboy Carter is so surprisingly fun.

By using country flavours rather than creating a pure country album, Beyonce is able to go off in all kinds of unpredictable directions and keep the album exciting. ‘II Most Wanted’ is a country-flavoured pop ballad with some impressive vocal harmonising between Beyonce and Miley Cyrus in which both take turns to sing the higher harmony. ‘Sweet * Honey * Buckin’ is a three part dance track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Renaissance were it not for the lyrics about country boys and mechanical bulls. The infectious bass line, breezy vocals and guitar solo of ‘Bodyguard’ meanwhile have a 70s funk rock vibe that offer a taste of what a Beyonce rock album might sound like.

I must admit I’m not the biggest fan of the 'Jolene' cover. Even though the cover was likely Dolly Parton's idea, it just seems like an unnecessary version of an already decent song. Its theme of infidelity does however provide a nice setup for the track ‘Daughter’, which itself provides a nice setup for ‘Spaghetti’ with its Italian opera singing. This is something that this album does extraordinarily well – it’s able to play with lots of different styles while linking them all together (and simultaneously maintaining an overarching cowboy/country theme throughout). In this respect, it’s perfectly crafted, even if some of the tracks like ‘Texas Hold ‘Em’ and her ‘Jolene’ cover are not my bag. (Cowboy) hats off to Mrs Carter!