Pitchfork Review: HOMECOMING by Beyoncé (9.3 BNM)

Best new music, Beyoncé’s historic Coachella set is preserved as a stunning live album that captures an artist at her peak, flexing her catalog and shining a light on the genius of black artists that came before her., Six solo albums in, six years after the surprise release of her self-titled album, three years after the groundbreaking Lemonade, one year after the rap album she delivered with her husband, and we’re starting to get it. We’re starting to understand Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as a musician with unparalleled range, depth, and power: acknowledging her rapperly talents, her breathless musical ambition, her ear and eye for synthesis and abiding love for black culture. With the release of Homecoming: The Live Album, the 40-track companion to her headlining sets from last year’s Coachella released as a documentary film with Netflix, we glimpse the artist at work during her peak—in voice, physicality, and confidence—reimagining and remixing her own catalog, decentering herself to shine a light on her influences and foundations., #Beychella redefined what was possible for a music festival. On stage, over 200 bodies undulated in unison but miraculously, every body moved in its own way. They filled out a set of risers constructed into a pyramid, built to look like the bleachers of a football stadium at a black college or university. Filling the structure was an orchestra that included a drumline and a full brass band that introduced themselves with the steady refrain of the Rebirth Brass Band’s “Do Whatcha Wanna.” Male dancers stood in a trembling line like black fraternity pledges, female dancers dressed as majorettes, background singers formed a choir of unified sound and movement, folding their bodies into Beyoncé’s intricately aggressive choreography., It was an old-fashioned revue, a cacophony of talent. It was a defiant celebration of complex, diasporic blackness. Woven into Beyoncé’s performance was a genealogy that hat-tipped the Clark Sisters, Big Freedia, Nina Simone, Fela Kuti, and James Weldon Johnson. I was home on the couch when I saw a grainy live stream of the first weekend’s show, dazzled, mouth agape, proud: Here was Beyoncé practicing black studies in front of a broad audience, digging into the long, living archive of black ephemera. The Netflix film gives you the performances as Beyoncé wanted them seen, with close-ups of bedazzled costumes and their pastel colors worn by bodies of all sizes. You see the sweat of rehearsals and Beyoncé’s exacting physical regimen to get herself back into performing shape after the 2017 birth of her twins. You see the underlying ethos that guides her work in the form of quotes and music cited from the poets, writers, and artists like Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, who conjured worlds that demanded and centered an abundant, fecund blackness., Homecoming is an important document of those performances, with careful mixing and engineering that render each track with stunning lucidity. We hear, for example, Kelly Rowland’s feathery soprano during the three-song suite of Destiny’s Child hits; it allows us to linger for a moment on the group’s legendary chemistry and three-part harmonies. Homecoming doesn’t stand on its own as an album experience separate from the film. It probably doesn’t need to. Beyoncé and her sister Solange increasingly rely on visuals to paint a fully embodied and populated vision that includes music. Homecoming, an accompaniment to a concert film, feels as if it wasn’t ever meant to be experienced in isolation. Still, it could be one of Beyoncé’s most important releases for how it illuminates both her past and her future., Beyoncé’s core musical vocabulary is the rhythm and bounce of a tune. She’s a classicist who believes in a song’s structure—choruses, bridges, meticulous verses, extended vamps, key changes. Her uptempo songs like “Crazy in Love,” “Countdown,” and “Love on Top” are some of the most inventive, dexterous pop and R&B music of the past couple of decades. For nearly the entire 110 minutes, she isolates these adrenaline-spiking cuts, amplifying their kinetic energy with marching-band arrangements. The extended version of B’Day’s 2006 single “Get Me Bodied” is a highlight here, as is 2005’s “Check on It.” Both are supercharged booty thumpers, more than a decade old that sound newly baptized in the world of Homecoming: the clarion calls of trumpets and whoomps of sousaphones, the foot-stomping on the risers and the off-mic “ayys” of the dancers that are sprinkled throughout. The arrangements amplify the relationship Beyoncé’s music has to the inherently percussive body., Still, Beyoncé’s a singer first, and it’s thrilling to hear her full-throated, low-end brassiness with so much clarity. She’s still got the flexibility to play in her upper ranges, but the musicality at the bottom of her range, where she belts the early notes of the rare ballad in this collection, “I Care,” is stunning. She growls through Lemonade cuts like “Sorry” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” but also whispers and coos through the early notes of “Partition.”, The recorded versions of Homecoming’s interludes and transitions draw out the black pop musical history Beyoncé cites and interpolates. “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” and “Swag Surfin” are important moments, but so are those when she employs TRU’s “I’m Bout’ It, Bout It” UGK’s “Something Good”—regional classics of the black South. She doubles down on her archival work, her career-long project of interpreting black music and big-upping black Houston and black Louisiana. (The only new piece of music on Homecoming is a bonus studio cover of Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly’s 1981 “Before I Let Go,” an evergreen black jam that gets every generation moving.) The moments feel like nods to the audience she so deliberately centers. The film captures this phenomenon of a mutual, pointed gaze with its frequent close-ups of black audience members, who were few and far between at the actual shows. Her rapport with the crowd is loose, filled with “I see you’s” that are left in the recording and further punctuate that Beyoncé was hoping to make a specific statement to a specific group of people., The album sounds communal, like a revival meeting in a small, sweaty tent that leaves you lifted and fortified. It’s as much about Beyoncé as it is about the people who made her and the people who sustain her. As I was listening, my upstairs neighbors, two young black women, were also listening at full volume. My friend in Miami was texting me hot takes, while my sister, who’d attended the show on the second weekend, was tweeting about how much the white people in the audience seemed to just not get it. Every Beyoncé event is a gospel you want to tell somebody about it, but this one doubles down on this feeling of communion. She’s singing songs you already know, and connecting them to other songs you remember, too. She’s drawing on her past, looking back, but also looking squarely back at us., Black women and rock’n’roll pioneers like Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Etta James, and contemporary queens of rhythmic music like Janet Jackson and Missy Elliott have not received sufficient credit for their innovations. Beyoncé, famously, was the first black woman headliner of the nearly 20-year-old festival. In a space where she was not obviously welcome, she made an enduring impression. A home. Then she made it about something other than herself. She brought an entire lineage into the room., Within a few months of each other, both Knowles sisters released projects that reimagined home as a soulful black utopia, rooted in the best of its abundant past but queerer, more holistic, self-aware, embodied, and feminist than before. Homecoming is a wondrous, rapturous collage that reveals how Beyoncé has made a career of playing, dipping, and diving in the “great pool of black genius”: the genius of her forebears, her contemporaries, and her own. For her entire life, she’s brought the mainstream over to her. Where will we all go next?