Over the past several years, we’ve watched Beyoncé Knowles morph from just another comely singer in a cookie-cutter R&B girl group into, well, Superwoman. Her debut solo album, 2003’s Dangerously in Love, put her role as a triple threat — singer! producer! songwriter! — in stark relief, revealing her as perhaps the only artist around who might pick up Madonna’s mantle and lead the way into a bold new future for women in pop (that is if she could keep delivering songs as bracing, brash, and infectious as ”Crazy in Love”).
Beyoncé’s continued allegiance to Destiny’s Child, however, may slow down her progress. In fact, Destiny Fulfilled, the trio’s fourth studio album, often moves at a molasses-like pace, weighted down with a preponderance of exquisitely executed but ultimately dull ballads. Things get off to a brisk enough start with the first single, ”Lose My Breath,” which zips along on a whirlwind of hand-clappy percussion and clipped synth blips as Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, and Michelle Williams all demand that ”baby boy” provide them with the sort of excitement a girl can feel in her, um, lungs. While it’s no ”Bootylicious,” it’s got more nervous energy and verve than almost anything else here.
”Soldier,” in which the threesome proclaim their love for country boys as long as they’re also thugs, is the album’s other overt bid for street cred. If you’re looking for a Jay-Z guest shot, though, you’re out of luck: Rappers T.I. and Lil’ Wayne chirp in, but bring little to the party. Elsewhere, it’s slow-jam city, with songs built on samples from old-school smoothies like Melba Moore, Donald Byrd, and Natalie Cole. There are some nice bits here and there. The pillow-talky pandering of ”Cater 2 U” — which finds Beyoncé promising to pamper her man by ”help[ing] put your do rag on” — is hard to resist. And the breezy ”Free” sounds like some lost soul classic from 1975, but that serves only to point up what may be the album’s real problem: that it seems to be trying — and failing — to evoke that bygone era too faithfully.
Most of all, Destiny Fulfilled comes off like a misguided attempt to emphasize that Destiny’s Child are more than just The Beyoncé Show. In fact, the overall air of democracy at work — nearly every song allots each chanteuse a verse, a fact dutifully spelled out on the lyric sheet — is fairly comical. Yet since Beyoncé herself coproduced and cowrote most of the album (with help from Rodney ”Darkchild” Jerkins, Mario Winans, Rockwilder, and others), it’s unfair to argue that Rowland and Williams are somehow responsible for the CD’s shortcomings and enervated feel. Could it be that Beyoncé is the sort of superheroine who carries kryptonite in her back pocket?