Monday, July 25th, 2011

Beyonce – Best Thing I Never Had

Somewhere, Jay-Z is smiling.


Brad Shoup: No slight to our current pop overlords, and I’m aware how old this makes me sound, but it’s always super nice to have Beyoncé bring her estimable class to the charts. Marshalling the orchestra and a Bruce Hornsby impersonator could be construed as protesting too much, but this gets a bonus tick for “you showed your ass,” which is demanding a transfer to everyday speech. For extra credit, look for the remix, which grafts the “La-Di-Da-Di” beat to soporific acoustic guitar and the keyboards from Phil Collins’ “One More Night”.

Martin Skidmore: A new Beyoncé feels less of an event these days, and I don’t really see this medium-pace number changing that a great deal. It’s OK, and she sings it with plenty of gusto, but it feels like familiar territory. There isn’t the worldbeating chorus that she’s so often given us, nor have the squadron of producers made so much of the music.

Katherine St Asaph: “Best Thing I Never Had” came with colossal expectations. Before a note was heard, it’d already become a referendum on 4, previously represented by the bombastic but barely-charting “Run the World (Girls),” the galvanizing but unofficial “End of Time” and the towering but slow “1+1,” which was sorta, kinda, almost a single. The track also couldn’t help being a referendum on Babyface, who hadn’t had a hit in years. “Best Thing I Never Had” needed to be that hit, but all that remained after the drums thrashed and the piano rattled and Beyoncé belted was the quasi-mooning joke of “you showed your ass.” Any other on 4, bonus or official, would have made a better single; all this track could accomplish was a lot of avoidable rumors.

Alfred Soto: This chapter in Beyoncé’s Reassurance Series (“Ha ha, see, I was only kidding: almost loved you!”) comes with a cute piano hook and the star’s voice at its most plush protecting the line “You shoved your ass.” Good bridge too. A solid album track, in other words; as a single it lacks the masochism that Beyoncé fans go for.

Alex Ostroff: As wonderful as they are, few of the songs on 4 scream Top 40, especially as pop radio has moved further from R&B towards dance. “Best Thing I Never Had” is the lone exception, a radio-friendly kiss-off built on top of a swirling piano line that sounds like pop radio c. 2006. B emotes the hell out of it, but while this would have fit nicely as B’Day‘s token ballad or on the Beyonce disc of her double album, it feels a little safe on an album of barnburning R&B, especially in contrast to the three ballads immediately preceding it.

Jonathan Bogart: I think I’ve teared up to every song on 4 at this point. This was the first one that got to me, although now that I’ve spent more time with the album it’s definitely one of the shallower cuts, more bluster than force and more practical in a narrowcast sort of way — you kind of have to be in a specific emotional place to really embrace it — than generally useful. Still, like everything on the album, it’s beautifully arranged, those cascading piano figures and pumping strings over the squalling guitar and clattering rhythm a gorgeous mix of head and heart, classicism and funk.

Anthony Easton: Nitsuh Abebe’s review in New York Magazine is a smart discussion about how this new album is about the nature of domesticity and is not the diva meltdown we expect of her. It was an interesting argument for how random a lot of the choices on 4 are. That said, she sings the hell out of this, and it could be about anything. But it’s mostly about her voice, enough about her voice, that nothing else matters.

Al Shipley: B’s overbearing growl here is one of the only times on 4 that her scenery-chewing vocal style is more of a drag than a thrill. And somehow the sweetness of the tune and the acid of the lyric end up providing more of a bellyache than a clever contrast.

Rebecca Toennessen: I appreciate the sentiment of the song, but I feel like Beyoncé is pulling it back rather than belting it all out like she’s capable of. I suppose I’d prefer if this was a full-on ballad, rather than a soulful pop song.

Michaela Drapes: This song is simultaneously too young and too old for Beyoncé; the sentiment is one for a middle-aged woman, but I cringed to hear her bleat “you showed your ass” and “sucks to be you right now” so gleefully; that’s so undignified and out of character for her that I just can’t swallow it. The production does her no favors either; it’s got her propped up on flimsy stilts when she needs thick columns.

Jer Fairall: Sucks to be on the end of so ridiculous a kiss off, I’d imagine, but if she’s gonna sacrifice the stately, respectable pomp of “1+1” for something this comparatively tacky, at least she’s given a veritable melodic playground to sing her way around.  Good taste is hugely overrated anyway. 

Ian Mathers: The part of the chorus where Beyoncé steps back for a second and lets a bunch of other voices sing the title line instead is weirdly nostalgic for me; I don’t know what from my childhood sounded like that, but that part of the song definitely feels more ’80s, despite not really using any obvious sonic identifiers of that era, than now. The rest of the song isn’t nostalgic, though; it’s so over-the-top vicious, culminating in the “I bet it sucks to be you right now” line, that for the first time Beyoncé’s lines about how little she cares feel a bit like protestations. I wish that frisson of possible doubt made “Best Thing I Never Had” more interesting, but as it is I’d rather just listen to “Irreplaceable” again.

Andy Hutchins: It’s a sweeter “Irreplaceable” (Babyface vs. Ne-Yo, I guess?) with hints of the marvelous “The Way It Is” melody throughout. And though Bey never quite goes full bore despite fanfare and guitar flourishes that would seem to demand it, this is many times better than “Rolling In the Deep,” the year’s other Big Ol’ Breakup Song, mostly because it’s actually about moving on.

Jake Cleland: There’s a time after every breakup, and it’s always different, where you finally realise that you’re over somebody. Something reminds you of them, and you realise you haven’t been thinking about them every spare minute lately, in fact you haven’t thought about them at all in the last week. You hang your head and shake it a little as a grin spreads across your face and you realise you’re actually happy in a way that doesn’t feel burdened like it did every time you thought you were happy in the last few months. Yeah, work still kinda sucks and you hate that Netflix is more expensive now, but you love going out with your friends again, and you changed your homepage from back to Facebook. You think back on that relationship and realise that it was making you anxious and weary and miserable, and if it hadn’t ended,you’d probably be even worse. But now you’re free, you’ve got a lot going on, and all things considered, you’re magnificent.

One Response to “Beyonce – Best Thing I Never Had”

  1. BTW: I’m wondering how many young women are going to go into bridal salons and ask for a version of this dress instead of the Kate Middleton knockoff?