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Upgrade B

Despite some complaints to the contrary, Beyoncé’s B’Day does not sound like it was recorded in two weeks. Even counting two hidden tracks, the 10-track album is still short by today’s beefed-up-without-any-actual-meat standards. While re-releases by other divas have seemed greedy and superfluous (Mariah’s The Emancipation Of Mimi was already chock-full of potential hit singles) or just plain nonsensical (Mary J. Blige’s No More Drama cut tracks and added others), the new version of B’Day serves to fill in some gaps and proves that the original album, despite finally hitting the mark with its third single, probably could have benefited from a little patience and a less-rushed release schedule.

B’Day is now paced less like a tigress going for the jugular and more like your average, bloated R&B album, with club jams interspersed with slow songs and midtempo tracks. Compared to “Resentment” and the rightfully Oscar-denied “Listen,” new ballads like “Still In Love (Kissing You)” (a cover of Des’ree’s Romeo + Juliet theme from 10 years ago that, while decent, could have been done better justice by someone like Mimi) and the surprise gem “Flaws And All” sound downright subtle. Of course, the original B’Day’s appeal was its aggressive, high-octane pace, and replacing it with this new 16-track Deluxe Version (with a completely rearranged sequence; the singles “Déjà Vu” and “Ring The Alarm” are pushed to the back of the bus in favor of the Shakira duet “Beautiful Liar,” among others) might make it a less attractive spin in the long run. (A second disc, which includes way too many versions of “Beautiful Liar,” is completely unnecessary—though the Nortena Remix of “Irreemplazable” is, uh, pretty special).

Beyoncé also shot eight new videos for B’Day’s re-release. None of them are anything special, though most will please narrow-minded fans who disliked Sophie Muller’s “Déjà Vu”: “Beautiful Liar” gets interesting around the bridge, when Beyoncé and Shakira, whose gyrations Beyoncé has been copping for years, begin mirroring each other’s movements; “Upgrade U” finds the singer psyching us out by miming the first half of Jay-Z’s rap; “Kitty Kat” is pure camp (she rides a giant cat and plays with a big neon ball); “Greenlight” pays homage to Robert Palmer’s video canon; “Get Me Bodied” features cameos by Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams, and Solange; and the sloppily edited “Freakum Dress” plays out like a cheap fashion show for House of Deréon instead of the couture-as-weapons anthem it should be. You can find them all on the exclusive Wal-Mart DVD B’Day Anthology Video Album or—where else?—on YouTube!

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.