Rod Liddle Rod Liddle

Clever, beautiful and sonically witty: Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter album reviewed

Beyoncé's strongest album since Lemonade – maybe even her best ever

Grade: A+

Carter is a useful surname to have if you’re making a country album. So it is with Beyoncé: she married into the name when she got hitched to Jay-Z, but he is from New York, not Poor Valley, VA. Helps if you’re from Texas too – just to convince folks that this bit of genre-hopping is rooted in authenticity.

It isn’t – but who cares? This is a clever, beautiful and sonically witty album. Country music’s conventions draw out of Beyoncé perhaps the most sublime melodies she has written, or part-written. There are cameos from Dolly Parton, half-forgotten black sharecropper’s daughter Linda Martell, Willie Nelson and the ghost of Chuck Berry, but – the last excepted – they don’t add much to this sprawling but magnificent double album.

‘Texas Hold ’Em’ has amassed more than 250 million downloads on Spotify and may end up being her most successful single. It’s great, an R&B inflected hoedown. But there is even better stuff here – the lovely, smoky, sway of ‘Alliigator Tears’ and the fabulous pop-Motown stomp of ‘Bodyguard’. Plus there’s a lush and faithful rendition of Paul McCartney’s ‘Blackbird’ (Paul having assured everyone, in ’68, that the song was not about turdus merula, per se, but about black emancipation. OK, Paul).

Sure, I could do without hearing ‘Jolene’ again – the lyrics are the usual ‘respec’-me-I-is-a-strong-independent-woman’ stuff with which we are extremely familiar. But, for once, don’t let that put you off. This is certainly Beyoncé’s strongest album since Lemonade (2016), and it may just be her best ever.

Country music suits you, Ms Knowles. Maybe stick to it.

Watch to Rod Liddle and Fraser Nelson discuss Beyoncé’s new album on Spectator TV:

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