At least one tactic or event preceding the release of Beyoncé's second solo album inspired a bemused three-syllable exclamation from anyone who was paying attention. The lead single, the late-'70s-funk-inspired "Deja Vu," had the audacity to not be as monstrous as "Crazy in Love" -- its stay at the top of the charts was relatively brief, so clearly there was evidence of some drop-off there. This was quickly followed by "Ring the Alarm," an angered, atonal, and out-of-character song with an accompanying video that invited all kinds of perplexed analysis, along with debate on whether Beyoncé was being autobiographical or, as the singer claimed, channeling her Dreamgirls character.
Like most American singers of her magnitude, Beyonce speaks in life-coach soundbites that portray recording an album as a spiritual rite of passage. She says of her second solo record: "Everything I do creatively has to make me work harder and, hopefully, steer me in a direction I've never been before," which makes it sound like a schlep up personal-development mountain. But maybe it was, considering that the recording was squeezed into a three-week gap between completing filming of the Supremes saga Dreamgirls, and launching a fashion range called House of Dereon.