Beyonce shocked the music world recently by delivering a "surprise" new album just in time for the holiday season. Yet, the biggest surprise is the album's mediocrity.

Her eponymous fifth album might be the weakest offering in her catalog. It's not even as strong as 2011's "4," which fell far short from being an overall great album.

As one would expect, the production values definitely sparkle. Plus, Beyonce's vocals are often excellent. Both of those elements are best witnessed on the album's third track, "Drunk in Love."

What "Beyonce" lacks, to a nearly shocking degree, is memorable songs. That doesn't mean that there won't be hits -- Beyonce does, after all, have the Midas touch. Yet, the songs are nauseously self-absorbed, and rarely in interesting ways, and the writing leans too heavily toward cheap thrills and easy gimmicks. All of those things can be found in such forgettable tracks as "Blow" and "No Angel."

She often shoots for fierce, in cuts like "Partition," but the result usually comes across as forced.

Also, the guest stars add very little to the album. That includes the guest spot by hubby, Jay Z, on "Drunk in Love." (OK, so the guest appearance by daughter Blue Ivy on "Blue" is sweet.)

In all, it's a nice stocking stuffer for fans (especially to see the videos). Yet, it's certainly not one of Beyonce's best.

Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.