nce upon a time, a long, long time ago, in a distant land, there was once a girl. She dreamt every night of being a princess, loved by everyone and always dressed in the prettiest clothes. And because she wanted it so much, her dream came true. Then she got older, and three newer, hungrier teenage girls rose up to take her place. She was beneficent, and passed on a gift to each. Upon the first two, she bestowed (via a ceremonial public kiss, naturally) a nous for image manipulation and reinvention, and a tabloid-friendly personal life. To the third, the golden girl, though, she passed her gift on behind closed doors, because this young woman would get the talent which she had found most useful: the mentality of a successful princess, a driving, over-arching ambition combined with a razor-sharp business savvy.
Accordingly, the golden girl and her handmaidens conquered the globe with barely a misstep: destiny fulfilled indeed. What the golden girl failed to realise, though, was that the first pop princess's gift hid a considerable flaw: to be so adept at most things that she simply lost the ability to know her limitations. While the pop princess was seduced by the silver screen, the world discreetly covered its eyes. And the golden girl?
The commonly held wisdom when it comes to pop albums is this: bangers good, ballads bad. It's a myth, of course; most pop acts are perfectly capable of delivering great balladry, and especially so in the field of R&B. Destiny's Child are not one of these acts, and it remains a mystery that Beyoncé Knowles—with all her talent, all her savvy—fails to realise this. Prior to Dangerously In Love, her debut solo album, it had been easy to dismiss the DC ballads as filler and concentrate on the envelope-pushing, hip-swivelling, bone-crunching anthems. That album, though, showed incipient danger signs that Beyoncé saw it to be the other way round: it was front-loaded with the singles, as if Beyoncé wanted to get the commercial sops out of the way as quickly as possible, and six tracks in the whole thing collapsed in a morass of melisma.
Destiny Fulfilled is even worse in that respect. It shoots its load quickly, although just as effectively: "Lose My Breath" and "Soldier" are stunning, both displaying the Beyoncé trademark of creepily submissive lyrics matched with dominatrix vocals and arrangements to superb effect. The former kicks off with a martial beat and a call of "hit me!" which sounds like a military command, and proceeds to put you through a series of moves without pause for breath, Beyoncé and her minions cracking the whip every time you even think of flagging. You're not good enough for them, of course: "Here's your papers, baby you are dismissed", they conclude, before upping their standards further with the slow, contemptuous grind of "Soldier"s crunk'n'b. Beyoncé uses her own name as shorthand for 'hot mama', guest rappers TI and Lil' Wayne get comprehensively owned, and Beyoncé (and minions) ride the beat like it's an open-top sports car and they're cruising the ghetto for suitable men.
And then, the bloody ballads. Unlike many R&B artists, Destiny's Child are actively bad at singing ballads, which mostly turn out mawkish, aimless and dull. There's one honourable exception here: "Through With Love" ups the tempo and adds an undulating piano line to underpin some surprisingly restrained vocals, before the song climaxes in religious redemption and crackly gospel chorales. It's no coincidence that the subject matter is actually plausible for Destiny's Child: reject men, reject love, turn to higher spirituality. Elsewhere, though, the gap between what they are and the emotions they're trying to convey is one which remains unbridged (does Beyoncé seriously expect us to take her seriously when she swears to pander to her man's every whim, as she does on the queasy "Cater 2 U"?). And if Madonna's example is anything to go by, she won't be learning from these mistakes any time soon.
Reviewed by: Alex MacPherson
Reviewed on: 2004-12-03
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