Beyonce's fourth studio album simply titled 4 kicks off in promising fashion with the slow burn of "1 + 1" which gets better each time it is heard. She proves she can be a soulful belter of true passion. However, three songs later when the midtempo "Best Thing I Never Had" feels more like a dance track compared to what came before, there is a realization that the indistinct ballads have caused the mind to wander while listening. The tempo doesn't really pick up until eight songs in on the jazzy swing of "Love On Top." By then it feels as if 4 is a bit of a listening endurance test.
Weakness In Songs on '4'
It is possible for an album entirely composed of ballads to rivet attention and smolder along as a brilliant piece of art. However, the songs on 4 in general are far too weak for even Beyonce to generate the focused interest these songs need. Melodies are standard issue and the lyrics rarely generate new insights into the people and relationships described. Kanye West and Andre 3000 provide interesting vocal color for "Party," but the song itself is just a variant on the "this is my night to be bad" theme.
Beyonce's Vocals Are Strong
Fortunately, Beyonce's vocals throughout the album are uniformly strong. It is good to hear her dig into the challenges of slow burning ballads, but, aside from the opening "1 + 1" she doesn't really get the chance to dig deep and take a song of love and emotion over the top. When the tempo does genuinely pick up on "Countdown," with a brilliant Boyz II Men sample, Beyonce proves once again she has few peers in being a commanding presence on top of big upbeat hip hop influenced R&B productions. "End Of Time" and the ill-fated single "Run the World (Girls)" both give Beyonce the opportunity to demonstrate her facility with clipped, percussive singing balanced along side smooth, sweeping, melodic vocals, but the engaging excitement is far too little too late.
Top Tracks On '4'
- "1 + 1"
- "Best Thing I Never Had"
- "End Of Time"
- "Run the World (Girls)"
Beyonce's Weakest Solo Album
Unfortunately, 4 is the weakest of Beyonce's solo albums. Admittedly, she has had a phenomenal run with her first three. All of those were built around strong thematic concepts. Her debut Dangerously In Love swirled around the intensity of intoxicating love and romance. B'Day examined the emotions and concepts revealed in the wake of Beyonce's work in the Dreamgirls movie. I Am...Sasha Fierce presented an exciting duality between Beyonce and an aggressive alter ego she called Sasha Fierce. 4 seems seriously lacking in an organizing core which makes it understandable why the album is simply titled 4. Undoubtedly, Beyonce remains one of the top artists in the pop music world, but this is a weak outing that feels more like it was a contractual requirement than an expression of true artistic passion.
Released June 2011 by Columbia Records