Beyoncé B'Day

With the exception of the underwhelming final album from Destiny’s Child (2004’s Destiny Fulfilled), it’s fair to say Beyoncé Knowles has been the most powerful force in modern R&B over the last decade. Knowing this, it’s incredibly difficult to accept just how average this second solo album is from the star. After 2003’s Dangerously in Love proved she didn’t need the soul sisters by her side any longer, B’Day is her second straight sign of a songwriting setback. Even with her Jigga Man by her side, Beyoncé can’t pull off the memorable moments she’s provided in full throughout her astonishing career. The two joints with Jay-Z — single "Déjà Vu” and "Upgrade U” — feel a little flat in comparison to their explosive and still superb "Crazy in Love” duet three years ago. She’s managed to get some hot beats courtesy of in-demand producers like Swizz Beatz and the Neptunes, but only the fiery "Ring the Alarm” and album standout "Green Light” (respectively) give any kind of satisfaction here. Last year’s hit with Slim Thug, "Check On It,” is mysteriously absent, which is a shame because even that over-familiar face would have been more welcome than B’Day’s middling bulk. A 15-minute-plus finale even falls short when its centrepiece is revealed as a slice of overindulgent, American Idol-esque pap that flows into a lame "encore for the fans.” Let’s hope next time around she can clue in to her shortcomings; one suggestion would be to find one producer and collaborate in full, but such consistency is a rarity in the R&B/hip-hop world these days. B’Day is mediocrity at its best, I guess. (Columbia)