Is naming your album after numerics slowly becoming a thing now? American R&B/pop singer Beyoncé's fourth album, 4 (see what she did there? smart, huh?) finds the singer verging away from that distinctive pop element that has always played a major role in her music and into more authentic R&B territories--returning to her "roots" if you will.
Dangerously in Love, her solo debut has always been my favorite from Beyoncé's discography. It's charming blend of R&B, soul and pop was unmissable and in my opinion the most consistent in her collection. So when I say I've never been that receptive of her work, although she has had her moments (and what awesome moments they have been) it is mainly because her material following Love has been rather hit and miss.
As successful as it was, her last album, I Am... Sasha Fierce didn't resonate with me--extract the singles and I thought you had a pretty dull album, particularly its second-half (which included the dire "Video Phone"). So how does 4 follow up? Well, it does has a handful of highlights, however it doesn't dismiss the hit and miss dilemma at all, in fact it sort of highlights it as not everything works. It's certainly an intimate and indecently ballad-heavy set, which provides enough room for Beyoncé to showcase her dazzling vocal acrobatics--which seems to work against her.
The brooding "1+1" gets the album off to a slow-burning start, as Beyoncé longs for her lover to make love to her. It's beautifully restraint and lenient in its composition--underpinning guitar strings, poignant piano keys layered over the bursts of strings and organs and ends with escalating romantic electronic guitars. It's a great opener, but seems to cop out of the climatic ending it's seeming to build up to. Nevertheless, it's a highlight. Another highlight is current single "Best Thing I Never Had" an awesome ode to moving on--a notion furthered by its deep bass lines and cold drums lines, underlined with its low-toned piano chords and violins.
The cavorting synths of "Party" featuring Andre 3000 and Kanye West is a pretty fun mid-tempo. Skittering drum beats and bursts of keyboards and synths. It rocks a nice old school flair, which is a nice touch. Following track "Rather Die Young" also sports an old school flair that wouldn't sound of place on Dangerously in Love. I love the bursts of horns during the chorus. Personal favorite, "Love On Top," is an epic ode to '70s influenced soul. It's absolutely brilliant.
The other half of songs, unfortunately, aren't so brilliant. "I Care" lacks any hint of melody and Beyoncé's tough vocal crosses the line of raw and powerful to unnecessarily over the top. That little growl that erupts when she sings "I still care" gets a little annoying. "I Miss You," begins quite nice--very subtle and restraint with disquieting pulsing synths, but doesn't quite build up to anything and its sensitivity tires out quickly.
"End of Time" sounds like an annoying barrage of horns, drums and no real melody. And what's with Beyoncé and 808 drum machines and nasty-talk? "Diva," "Video Phone" and now "Countdown" which takes the biscuit with vulgarity ("grind up on it girl, show him how you ride it"). I'm not a prude, but sometimes it just doesn't work. It's just as cringe-worthy as when she sang ("You want me naked? If you likin' this position, you can tape it"). Then of course, there's the mother of all duds, "Run the World (Girls)" tagged along at the end.
4 does deliver some excellent tracks, but as whole isn't the solid body of work I had hoped for. To say it's the least impressive set in her collection so far, seems a little harsh but that seems to be the case. I was excited when I heard she was furthering away from pop into more R&B territories, assuming it would be a throwback to the sound on Dangerously in Love, but this wasn't the case.
Best: Best Thing I Never Had, Love On Top, 1+1, Party, Rather Die Young