JThe last major musical statements the world heard from Beyoncé were Black Parade, an electronic rumble of anger against police brutality and racism that slowly morphed into a euphoric celebration of African American and African culture, and Be Alive. , his Oscar-nominated contribution to the soundtrack. of King Richard: a ballad set to a relentless, pounding beat that hammered home its message of black empowerment. They were, at least spiritually, one piece with the albums that preceded them in 2019, the Beyoncé-produced soundtrack for The Lion King, which thrust the sound of Afrobeats into the limelight, and the live recording of his extraordinary performance Coachella Retrouvailles: proof of an artist committed to taking musical risks, constantly moving forward and trying something different.
This makes the release of the first single from his upcoming album Renaissance all the more surprising. Rather than presenting its audience with something startlingly different, Break My Soul feels oddly familiar. It’s a mid-tempo house track around a keyboard bass sound that – without wanting to get too technical – closely resembles setting number 17 on the Korg M1 synthesizer. Even if you’ve never heard of a Korg M1 synthesizer, you’ve heard this sound: it’s the basis of the 1993 Stonebridge remix of Robin S’s Show Me Love and the 1992 remix of MK – or “Dub of Doom” from Nightcrawlers’ Push the Feeling On, two of the most influential house tracks in recent pop history.
In Britain at least, we’ve heard plenty of pop singles that sound like one or both over the past decade. The vogue for reviving Robin S’s Show Me Love peaked in the mid-2010s, during the era of Kiesza’s Hideaway, Disclosure’s White Noise and covers of the track by Clean Bandit and Sam Feldt. Push the Feeling On was revived around the same time – you could hear its influence on Tinie Tempah and Jess Glynne’s Not Letting Go – and proved to be even more enduring. In 2020 it was sampled on both AJ Tracey’s Dinner Guest and Mist and Fredo’s House Party, and last year formed the basis of Riton x Nightcrawlers’ Friday, a European hit.
It’s worth pointing out that neither the original ’90s tracks, nor their latter-day successors, had the same impact in the United States as they had elsewhere. And Break My Soul is an extremely classy example of this type. It’s decorated with a bouncy piano line, raw-voiced interjections sampled by rapper Big Freedia, and a hook that irrevocably worms its way into your brain and features an impressive and unexpected 3-way pitch shift: 14. It offers an ever-changing chorus of harmony voices. and a generally fantastic lead performance: among the lyrics about quitting your job, letting go, and finding a new engine is the line “Bey’s back and I sleep really well at night”, which seems destined to join “Becky with the Good Hair” and “I Woke Up Like This” in Beyoncé’s pantheon of tirelessly quoted and swaggering lyrics.
It’s obviously going to be a huge hit, but it’s not a Single Ladies or Run the World or Crazy in Love either, the kind of Beyoncé single that stops you dead in your tracks: it feels like you’re following a musical trend rather than fix one. That said, one need only look at the kaleidoscopic content of his latest solo studio album Lemonade to realize that Break My Soul is probably not representative of the Renaissance as a whole: his albums tend to be teeming with ideas, whose 90s of Break My Soul house revivalism is arguably just one.