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At first glance, The Lion King: The Gift doesn’t look like a new Beyoncé album so much as a demonstration of the singer’s astonishing star power. The Walt Disney Company is a famously unbending organisation, and yet Beyoncé appears to have got it to hand over the assets of the highest-grossing entertainment property in history so she can make an album, released in direct competition with the soundtrack of the new remake, complete with a cameo role for her seven-year-old daughter.
Initially, it seems as if Beyoncé thinks the US writer – who recently opined that what was wrong with The Lion King remake was that they hadn’t changed the plot so that Beyoncé’s character was the leading role and replaced the songs with songs by Beyoncé – had a point. Her album feels like an alternative soundtrack. The opening Bigger and Find Your Way Back seem like riffs on Circle of Life – the former a slightly rambling self-help ballad that kicks into life three quarters of the way through; the latter an understated pop track underpinned by a rhythm track inspired by Afrobeats.
But after that, things take a noticeably different turn. If you subsequently never want for expressions of Beyoncé’s own fabulousness – “I’m piña colada-ing / you stay Ramada Inn,” she snaps on Mood 4 Eva – it also becomes apparent that the line about the album being “curated” by Beyoncé is key. She keeps ceding the stage entirely to far less celebrated artists, from Nigerian Afro-pop singer Burna Boy to Brooklyn rapper SAINt JHN. The Gift is an album on which a guest star as big as Kendrick Lamar gets less spotlight than up-and-comer Tierra Whack. On one level, that is a shame – Lamar sounds great on Nile, but the track feels truncated, a largely beatless wash of synths that lasts under two minutes – but it’s hard to deny the sheer force of Tierra Whack’s verse on My Power, a ferocious blast of percussion, fizzing electronic drone and vocals in isiXhosa that might be the best thing here.
Indeed, the guest spots occasionally overshadow the star. The Beyoncé-led tracks are of distinctly variable quality. For every song as good as the brilliant Brown Skin Girl or Mood 4 Eva, there is something underwhelming. Spirit (equal parts show-tune and Donna Summer’s State of Independence), and Otherside (a standard-issue ballad rescued by the gorgeous rolling piano sample that runs through it), cover ground she’s trodden more memorably before – she might have been better off saving the best stuff for her next solo album. By contrast, there is a real crackle of excitement about Don’t Jealous Me, on which Nigerian vocalists Tekno, Yemi Alade and Mr Eazi trade verses, or the way 070 Shake and Jessie Reyez’s Scar suddenly shifts from piano-backed lament into distorted hip-hop.
Beyoncé has put these artists together and co-produced every track, giving the dominant Afrobeats sound a vast new level of exposure – an impressive feat in itself. It’s an album, then, that ably displays her excellent taste, rather than a great Beyoncé album per se.
• This article was amended on 25 July 2019 to correct an error: Brown Skin Girl was wrongly titled Black Skin Girl.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Beyoncé: The Lion King: The Gift review – superstar shows impeccable taste | Beyoncé