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Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’: Rein in the track list

Columbia Records
“Cowboy Carter” is Beyoncé’s dive into country music that ultimately is just an unfinished attempt.

Beyoncé’s highly anticipated eighth studio album, Cowboy Carter, arrived with all the hallmarks of a major artist release: a TikTok trend, a star-studded feature list and an unfortunate number of unimpressive musical ideas.

A lot of commentary surrounding this record has listed it as a country album, but a better description would be a very long tribute to the history of American radio.

Albums generally have a concise focus and make a statement throughout their runtime. Every song leads into the next, both musically and lyrically. More specifically, country albums take on many shapes and sizes but broadly tend to prefer straightforward melodies with a standard fare of instruments and tend not to use drum machines.

Along with a standard sound, the subject matter is usually simpler as well. Country albums aim to tell stories or reminisce on moments in time.

Beyoncé’s albums, though, seem to be defined by three significant elements: sugary bass and snare instrumentals, lyrics about how tired she is of being cheated on by her husband and lyrics about how much she loves intimate moments with her husband.

“Cowboy Carter” has more of one category than the other, and I bet the ever-clever readers of The Tiger can deduce which is more prevalent.

The album artwork is reminiscent of her last studio album, “Renaissance,” and there is not much sonic evolution from her previous album either.

The concept is a semi-chronological analysis of American national radio from its birth until what seems to be its death at the hands of streaming services and subscription-based music, which have mostly replaced direct album sales.

“Cowbpy Carter” starts with a solid cover of “Blackbird” by The Beatles. Then the songs slowly stack through time: first with an ode to Willie Nelson, then to Dolly Parton and then to Linda Martell. The album closes with a crescendo calling back to the radio motifs that have resounded throughout the album.

For a full song breakdown, see the bottom of the article.

Despite the quality of some of the songs, 27 tracks are simply too many. It’s a common trend in pop music to put out any catchy melody in hopes that it blows up on social media, and Beyoncé is no exception.

There is space for deluxe albums and for an artist to drop unfinished ideas to try and push forward musical concepts. The place for that is not, however, on a 27-track album. On an album of this length, it’s impossible not to have momentum killers and space fillers intermixed with the songs that got the attention and effort they deserved.

Beyoncé does better than most in this category, but the album in a slim 17-track variation would have been much stronger. Listeners who are pressed for time should skip the second disc altogether.

“AMERIICAN REQUIEM” – An excellent intro track with pump and pressure. It sounds fantastic and builds tension well for what comes next.
“BLACKBIIRD” – This cover of the Beatles song of the same name is nothing to write home about, but it is well done and references the beginning of radio’s glory days.

“16 CARRIAGES” – This song is the first full-throated statement of the type that we have become used to on Beyoncé’s albums. A country ballad about the tribulations of growing up and watching dreams shrivel before her, the story, sound and sentiment are all excellently concocted together and make for a very satisfying listen. If you find a bookie to give you odds on the best deep cut on the album, this would be a good pick.
“PROTECTOR” – An ode to her children, this track earns many of the same accolades as “16 CARRIAGES” but in a sweeter, slower and more peaceful style.
“MY ROSE” – Essentially just the outro to “PROTECTOR,” it is an unfinished and unnecessary addition. The first of many, unfortunately.
“SMOKE HOUR ★ WILLIE NELSON” – This interlude simulating a radio broadcast feels homey and comfortable to those who grew up on the radio. Willie Nelson’s voice is a welcoming addition and fits with the country motif.
“TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” – No review is necessary. If you haven’t heard this song by now, you never will. It is the definitive single off the album: those who like it love it. It’s impossible to remove the song from the dance trend it inspired, so if TikTok grinds your gears, maybe skip this one.
“BODYGUARD” – Fleetwood Mac with a Beyoncé flare, this track has a great time to offer and not much else. Sometimes, that is all a song needs to be.
“DOLLY P” – Truly just an intro to the reimagining of Jolene. Dolly Parton sounds lovely as always and is too sweet to leave off any project.
“JOLENE” – In this version of Parton’s classic, Beyoncé pleads with the women who cheat with her billionaire, rap mogul, entrepreneur husband. The reasons why a woman would find such a man as Jay-Z attractive seem rather self-evident, but the song stands on its own as a superb track and should be on any playlist with a pop-country spirit.
“DAUGHTER” – A fitting follow-up to “JOLENE,” Beyoncé laments the infidelity she has faced in her life and how she sees some of what she hated in her father coming out in her own personality.
“SPAGHETTII” – On this track, Beyoncé makes a declarative statement about blending genres and creating something new. She then delivers a very standard rap song. It’s well done, with a nice feature from Shaboozey. If you like proud feminine rap music, this one’s for you. The statement fits the record as a whole but misses within the song itself.
“ALLIIGATOR TEARS” – Off the back of a “genre-bending” rap song that was simultaneously genuinely good and not at all genre-bending, Beyoncé serves us an equally good, equally not genre-bending country song. She proves here that she has the chops to make good country music. The lyric narrates how she must deal with the alligator tears of her lover, whom she still has strong feelings for but cannot shake the feeling of being used and abused emotionally.
“SMOKE HOUR II” – More of the same from Willie Nelson, the third interlude is so far what you would expect from a fully mixed and mastered album.
“JUST FOR FUN” – The title may lead you astray, as this song is slower. It’s an analysis of the hurt in Beyoncé’s everyday life. The vocals are what you would expect from her, but the production has a welcome country-gospel flare that hasn’t appeared on any of the record’s previous songs. It’s another good pick for the best deep cut. Unfortunately, after “JUST FOR FUN,” the album begins its serious decline.
“II MOST WANTED” – Miley Cyrus makes her first and only appearance on the album. If you have a taste for her vocal style, you may find it entertaining, but I don’t, and I didn’t. A remix may be in order. The song sounds a tad like something Billy Joel would put out and stands alone as more of the better-than-average album filler.
“LEVII’S JEANS” – Post Malone is listed as a feature on this track, but it sounds more like a Post Malone song with a Beyoncé feature. It is a net negative on this album but would likely be a net positive on one of the mediocre projects Post Malone has been putting out recently.
“FLAMENCO” – This song sounds like it would have been excellent if Beyoncé had finished it. The instrumental is more country strumming, and Beyoncé flexes her operatic vocal abilities, but other than that, the song is nothing notable.
“THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW” – A fitting end to disc one, Linda Martell closes with a nice statement to prepare the listener for the second disc.
“YA YA” – This song may be the best on the album. It sounds like a live concert performance, and the production makes it feel like the listener is in the stands at the show. The lyrics, like many others on the record’s second disc, describe Beyoncé’s enjoyment of her time in the bedroom. It seems to be her favorite lyrical subject.
“OH LOUISIANA” – An ode to her home state, this song is unfinished and would’ve been better off on the cutting room floor.
“DESERT EAGLE” – The album is dragging on at this point. Just know that Beyoncé loves sex, and move on. The country motif continues, and the bassline that underpins the song is very well executed, but the lyrics are dreadful.
“RIIVERDANCE” – This song is a radio version of the previous, but with even worse lyrics and a less complex instrumental. Listen if you are forced to, but don’t bother otherwise.
“II HANDS II HEAVEN” – A song called Two Hands to Heaven is exactly about what you think it would be. Instead of radio music, it’s more of a club track about her relationship with her husband.
“TYRANT” – It is unclear why Dolly Parton is on this track, as it’s just another song about Beyonce enjoying her partner, but she is.
“SWEET ★ HONEY ★ BUCKIIN’” – Take a wild guess at what the title of this song is alluding to, and you’ll probably be right. There is a Latin twist, which is refreshing, but you really don’t need to hear it more than once.
“AMEN” – A grand finale to an album that will turn you into a grandparent, both in the time it takes to listen to and the lyrics’ unending encouragement to reproduce. This last track is nice sounding and returns to some of the radio references that were so prevalent on the first disc before being completely abandoned on the second. The album comes full circle, but it may be too late to earn as high a rating as it could have had Beyoncé paid more attention to making a cohesive final product.

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  • J

    James RaymondApr 13, 2024 at 6:30 pm

    This review is so poorly researched, written and edited (note: the title of the album is COWBOY CARTER) that it’s difficult for me to take it seriously. It’s telling that the author completely ignores (or is ill-informed about) the cultural context for this album in the first place. He also seems to lack knowledge of the fact that the album is part of a trilogy and is meant to come before RENAISSANCE. As such, when one listens to the final moments of”Amen,” it becomes apparent that COWBOY CARTER directly flows into the beginning of RENAISSANCE. Thank goodness there are many other reviews of COWBOY CARTER readily available online that fully examine all of the elements of the album and the cultural context one must understand when evaluating the merits of the project as a whole.

  • A

    AshleyApr 13, 2024 at 5:06 pm

    Cohesiveness is overrated. And the variety on this album showcases Beyoncé’s range as an artist. I loved every one of those 27 songs. You sound like you have a particular formula that you expect artists to follow, and that’s why you know nothing about good music. The listening public is sick to death of formulas and sonic cohesiveness. That’s why Tyler Childers, Zach Bryan, and Jelly Roll are the most popular country artists today. The public is absolutely sick of Nashville’s formulas, we want to deeply connect with the artist. You know nothing about true creative expression.