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'Beyonce' album review: Winner from start to finish

An image from Beyonce.com announcing the surprise release

An image from Beyonce.com announcing the surprise release of her new album. (Dec. 13, 2013) Credit: beyonce.com

This was worth the wait.

Beyoncé finally unleashed her often-delayed fifth album, "Beyoncé" (Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia) early Friday morning with no advance warning. Just as with the creation of the album itself, B wanted complete control of its distribution as well, selling it only as an all-or-nothing package on iTunes, with no songs available individually. She also created her own kind of Netflix binge-watching issue, putting out videos for all 14 of the songs simultaneously, rather than staggering their release.

Of course, considering how good "Beyoncé" is, with numerous potential smashes in a variety of styles, that won't be a problem for her.

"Beyoncé" is the third album since B took total responsibility for her work, and it sounds like she now has the hang of it. Throughout the album, she pushes the envelope of what pop and hip-hop expect from their divas, cowriting every song. Everything on "Beyoncé" is under meticulous control -- lyrically, musically and thematically.

"Pretty Hurts," one of two songs she recorded at Kings Landing in Bridgehampton, is similar to "Halo," with its stately synths and spare background, but it is even more dynamic musically and bold lyrically.

On "***Flawless," also recorded in Bridgehampton, she takes the song previously known as "Bow Down" when it leaked earlier this year and turns it from a more personal diva attitude into something universal for female empowerment.

You can practically hear her confidence grow with her own musical skill, as she takes one risk after another. On "Drunk in Love," she sings her own hook and raps her own verses, though she does give hubby Jay Z one showstopping verse as well. On "Partition," Beyoncé channels her inner Prince, moving from a sweet, girl-group pop sound to Dirty South hip-hop.

Her grandest achievement may be her most subtle. The ballad "Superpower" -- built over a doo-wop chorus of the voices of her Destiny's Child sisters Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams -- finds her trading soulful vocals with Frank Ocean and crafting a new-millennium kind of soul that warms up the icy, spare synthesized orchestral sounds.

Beyoncé clearly feels comfortable now, even confident enough to reveal that she still has some doubts.

"Probably won't make no money off this -- oh well," she says in "Haunted."

Don't be too sure about that, B. "Beyoncé" is a winner from start to finish.

In Sunday's FanFare: 50 Things You May Not Have Known About Beyoncé

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