Beyoncé: 4

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Posted June 29, 2011 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0
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Fourth album from Queen Bee is bizarrely loaded with dry ballads, not enough punch

For the first ten years of Beyoncé’s career (including her tenure as front woman for Destiny’s Child), she has been known for her spicy, energetic up-tempos. Her repertoire is loaded with them to the point that they clearly dominate her live sets. On 4, Beyoncé’s fourth disc, she puts the ballad in the front seat and hopes to inject some slowly paced material into her live shows. It’s a risky move nevertheless, since her fans are programmed to expect a preponderance of sexy head-banging club anthems to be in full effect.

But 4 is much more than just a change of pace. It juggles with rock’s ego, leans a little more on lead guitar solos, more synth-fueled and intimate ballads while totally ignoring the current environment in electro-controlled pop music. Beyoncé’s no stranger to the idea of playing with her passionate ambitions, but 4 is bizarrely more self-centered than Sasha Fierce and proves to be less interesting.

The album opens with “1+1,” a mutated experiment picking at Sam Cooke’s “don’t know much about…” philosophies and Prince’s “Purple Rain” dramatics. For the most part, the song is one of her best slow jams. Her voice is stronger and raspier than before, aged in a marinade of thick soulful pleading and aerobic melisma. But instead of “1+1” powering up in the potential of Purple Rain’s climatic finish, it slowly fades before its engines could heat up. Its end result feels more like the album’s prelude. What immediately follows is draining slow songs that fail to optimize the singer’s full potential. “I Care” and “I Miss You” are moody Daft Punk-inspired slow jams, drenched with heavy legato using exhausting slurs. When the tempo tries to kick up on the Andre 3000/Kanye West-supported, SWV-esque “Party,” the album falls apart at the seams.

Saving the album from total disaster, “Best Thing I Never Had” is a breath of fresh air. Sweet piano decorate the opening lines while Beyoncé kicks up her “Irreplaceable” persona (“When I think of the time I almost lost you/You showed your ass and I saw the real you”). Clearly it’s a crossbreed of OneRepublic pop and Babyface R&B – thanks to Babyface’s co-writing duties. Then there’s “Love on Top,” which sounds like a gleaming reprise of George Benson’s “Turn Your Love Around.” Alongside Beyoncé’s jovial vocals and the buoyancy of the grooves, the song screams for radio attention, but one too many modulations at the end – like a Hezekiah Walker gospel offering – quickly puts the breaks on that idea.

In the eyes of Queen Bee’s most faithful fans, a technical issue arises if the album could be salvaged if the song’s chronological order were reset. The Major Lazer-sampled “Run the World (Girls),” being the only uptempo offering and bearing some of the club-driven sting of her previous singles, probably should have gone first. But record executives know the golden rule to piecing together good albums. You always put the best in the front. As hard as it seems, in the case of 4, the execs actually got it right. The front end is far more interesting than what lies on the back.

J MATTHEW COBB

HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: 24 June 2011
  • Label: Columbia
  • Producers: Kuk Harrell, Kanye West, Caleb, Shea Taylor, Luke Steele, Los Da Mystro, Antonio Dixon, Babyface, Tricky Stewart, The-Dream, Ryan Tedder, Switch, Symbolic One, Kaskade, Jens Bergmark, Julian Bergmark
  • Spin This: “Love on Top,” “Best Thing I Never Had”

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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