“You had your half, and I had mine/And now there’s no such thing as you and me.” So sing the sirens on “Nuclear,” Destiny’s Child’s first new single in what may as well be 10 lifetimes on pop culture’s accelerated timetable. Leave it to these girls to make a declaration of union sound like a prenuptial negotiation. Even before Beyoncé set sail on Diana Ross’s career path, what made Destiny’s Child such a compelling girl group was never how well they meshed together (otherwise The Writing’s on the Wall would have been written out of the canon), but rather how chivalrously they ignored the fact that there was, in fact, no parity at all among them.
Of course, it’s a lot easier to say that now that Beyoncé runs the world and has enough a sense of noblesse oblige to recast her aspirations within post-feminism, a tag I don’t use lightly but have no other alternative given that the forthcoming compilation “Nuclear” is intended to help launch opens with “Cater 2 U,” still the group’s most nauseatingly insincere moment. But even in their salad days, the harmony between B, Michelle Williams, and Kelly Rowland always seemed to come through sleight of hand, with conspicuous consumerism serving as the distraction that allowed them to pull platinum-selling sisterhood like a rabbit from a hat. It now makes sense that their brand of lyrical courtship more strongly focused on who wasn’t paying the bills, bills, bills than on who could make them weak in the knees; their internal obsession with maintaining a patina of equality couldn’t help but spill over into the fantasies they were selling.
Produced by Pharrell Williams, “Nuclear” builds from that ubiquitous drum loop from Lyn Collins’s “Think (About It),” most famously used in Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two.” The monogamous implication is as obvious as the ledger-book subtext is seductively folded deep within the song’s creamy layers of vocal harmonizing. On the page, the “two” in the line “when the two become one on the quantum level” may as well mean Beyoncé and Not Beyoncé. And yet, these girls have rarely sounded quite as relaxed as they do leaning long and hard on the last syllables of words, nor have they been as willing to luxuriate in dynamics well south of fortissimo. Trading lines with the sort of gratitude one expects from such a high-profile reunion, Beyoncé, Kelly, and Michelle manage to convey more love for each other than any of the subjects the rest of the album’s track list ever received.