posted September 13, 2006 12:00:00 AM CDT | 34 comments

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Beyoncé Knowles has done a lot in the last 25 years. She's led the single most successful female R&B group of all time to hundreds of awards and over 100 million records sold. She's gone solo, (as lead singers tend to do) only to find even more acclaim and popularity. Twenty-five years after her original B-Day, she's celebrating a quarter century by giving us a 10-track birthday present.

B-Day is a wonderfully arranged album, complete with quality, original production from a long list of mega-producers. Rodney Jerkins is the mastermind behind "Déjà vu," which he both wrote and produced. "Déjà vu," stands out as a defining track for three reasons. First, she displays her trademark ability to actually blend her voice with the trumpets, so much so that you only need to hear the instrumental to hear the words themselves.

"Know that I can't get over you, cause everything I see is you, and I don't want no substitute, baby I swear its Deja Vu."

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, she succeeds in re-creating the easy authenticity of 2003's Crazy in Love, on which she flaunted a (then) thinly-veiled romance with Jay-Z. The concepts are virtually identical, and "Déjà vu" could have easily come off as a "part-two" Instead, it stands on its own (try singing the above hook and then the hook to "Crazy in Love"- tough right?). Once you appreciate that you'll be able to fully appreciate the song's title. Finally, Young Hov's 2nd verse makes this track truly exceptional.

"It's H-O/ Light up the dro/ cause you gon' need help tryin to study my...bounce/ flow, blow, what's the difference?/ One you take a vein while the other you sniffin/ It's still dough/po-po try to convict him/ that's a no-go my dough keep the scales to tippin..."

"Get Me Bodied" is a sassy, swing inspired cut which provides a nice contrast to the opening club banger. Swizz Beatz's contribution is perhaps a little too Swizz-esque, (you can only take hey, hey, hey, hey for so long) and Beyoncé's struggles a bit to keep the party going. "Suga Mama" features Beyoncé doing a 180-degree turn from her early days of lamenting bug-a-boos and men who ran up her cell phone bills. Rich Harrison (who produced "Crazy in Love") opts this time for a sassy, eclectic, guitar-laced track which is clearly without the soulful yet light flair that Beyoncé usually achieves.

Four tracks in we get the album's best song - "Upgrade U" - and it's worth the wait. "Upgrade U" is one of those trend-setting songs that we'll look back on in five years and say, "Oh, that's who started saying let me upgrade you." Beyoncé sings her head off on this one, mixing a provocative (if materialistic) hook with a seductive blend of chanting and pleading that is, well, hot. Plus, the beat is damn hard for an R&B track. And lest you think that I'm just hyping this one because Jay-Z is on it, allow me to cite just one more bar:

"I'm talking Spy bags/ and fly pads and/ Rooms at the Bloom-berg/ and ru-mors/ you on the verge of a new-merge/ cause that rock on your finger's like a tu-mor/ you can't fit you hand in your new-purse"

"Ring the Alarm" features a typically cool, collected and demure Beyoncé absolutely tripping. The psycho ex-girlfriend theme is played, and frankly a little scary. True fans will certainly compare this one to 2003's "Me, Myself and I." I'm all for multi-dimensionality in an album, but "Ring the Alarm" is a serious departure from the man-friendly theme of the first half of the disc. "Kitty Kat" is a playful breather on which B milks a pussy-cat/sex metaphor for all it's worth while dismissing a boyfriend because he has better things to do than lust after her body.

Yeah right.

To make matters worse she sing-raps a verse or two as well, including one Kelis-inspired line where she gets a little bossy:

"Rock diamonds on my neck, got diamonds on my records/ since sixteen I was coming down ridin Lexus"

"Freakum Dress" is also good-and-horrible. The Neptunes come through in a big way with "Green Light," on which Beyoncé sounds like Amerie trying to sound like Beyoncé. Perhaps the best production on B-Day comes from an anonymous Norwegian pop music production team known as Stargate on "Irreplaceable." "Irreplaceable" is a feel-good, stand-up-for yourself, sing-along rallying cry for self-respecting women everywhere; made specifically for all those cocky guys out there who think they're God's gift to females.

Like I said: yeah right.

Speaking of God, "Resentment" sounds like church music. He lied. You moved on. Get over it already. There's also a hidden track (ooohhh) which is a song from Beyoncé's upcoming starring role in the silver-screen musical Dreamgirls. "Listen" is a heartfelt preview of the highly anticipated musical, and Dreamgirls (due out Christmas 2006) just might serve as a brilliant encore to B-Day. B-Day might not be Beyonce on her best day, but then again I'd take Beyoncé any day of the week.

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