Beyoncé’s latest album, “Renaissance,” is a vivid, immersive soundscape that remembers — even as it recreates — the feeling of being together: dancing in clubs or house parties, hearts beating in sync and in rhythm, grinding on the club floor anticipating other forms of intimacy. It is a fantasy project that recalls those physical delights taken away by social distancing at the start of the pandemic.
At first glance, “Renaissance” is simply a dance album that recalls the legacies of house, disco and Afrobeat. Certainly celebratory, the album is less a resurrection of “old” musical forms and more a reminder that the groove of Blackness — historically developed in juke joints, advanced by Chicago House pioneers, reinvented in urban balls, popularized in New York discos — remains as strong as ever.
However, “Renaissance,” the first act of an expected trilogy, is greater than a series of tracks engineered to work up a sweat. Similar to Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” (2016), the album frames and reframes our cultural moment: the insights gained from our global health pandemic and more. “Break My Soul” could be the summer anthem for the Great Resignation and the need for personal and professional renewal. Beyonce spotlights the introspection that has occurred throughout the past 2 1/2 years:
And I just quit my job
I’m gonna find new drive …
I’m takin’ my new salvation
And I’ma build my own foundation.
Life is too short for jobs and relationships that are neither fulfilling nor nourishing. Her advice: Walk away from them and head toward those things and people who will embrace and brighten your glow.
“Renaissance” has moments of profound social commentary, particularly drawing attention to the increasing presence of white nationalism and the distressing rise of anti-Black racism. Politically active in support of Barack Obama, the nation’s 44th president, Beyoncé urges her listeners to be politically engaged. In “Energy,” she sings, “votin’ out 45, don’t getta outta line.” A subtle nod to the power of voter registration and the effects of voting, she reminds us that politicians serve at our pleasure.