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"“Beyoncé” suddenly appeared in the iTunes music store with no prior hype — though plenty thereafter — at midnight Eastern time on Thursday. That’s the latest iteration of a tactic already used this year by David Bowie and My Bloody Valentine, who also released albums with no announcement or buildup. Of course, Beyoncé one-upped them: “Beyoncé” includes elaborate videos for every song, many of them made on location — in France, Brazil, Australia — while the multitasking Beyoncé was taking her “Mrs. Carter Show” tour around the world. She needed only an Instagram announcement to draw international attention, and the album immediately went to No. 1 in 90 countries on iTunes’ rankings. It was no secret that she had been working for a long time on the album, her first since “4,” in 2011. And it arrives at nearly the last possible moment for the lucrative Christmas season. But Beyoncé transformed a delay into a selling point. […] In a year full of overblown marketing campaigns for albums that were letdowns, “Beyoncé” should long outlast the initial stir. The songs are alert to the current sound of clubs and radio, but not trapped by it; the refrains are terse and direct, but what happens between them isn’t formulaic. And while Beyoncé constructed the songs with a phalanx of collaborators, they all know better than to eclipse her creamy, soulful voice."

Jon Pareles, A December Surprise, Without Whispers (or Leaks)