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Beyoncé

Dangerously in Love (Columbia)

On her solo debut, Destiny's Child siren Beyoncé Knowles proves that all her "Independent Woman" sloganeering was more than just R&B hyperbole. Knowles has a songwriting credit on all but three of the album's fifteen cuts, and she produced a number of the tracks herself. Perhaps this is why the album feels much more like a natural transition from teen-pop pinup to dance-floor diva than do the recent efforts from Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, who simply equated maturity with sex, as if baring more flesh would get them taken more seriously. In fact, the opposite has happened.

Beyoncé makes no such missteps, though her album is just as salacious. Opener "Crazy in Love" is already the song of the summer, a sweaty disco anthem with triumphant horns and beats. "Naughty Girl" is radio Viagra, with a breathy Beyoncé moaning not-so-sweet nothings over muted flute and wah-wah guitar. Even better is "Speechless," a tawdry torch song meant for the bedroom. Of course, Beyoncé still has some growing up to do -- the second half of Love often succumbs to rote R&B -- but this album should keep her around long enough to do just that.

 
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