Likes: Party, Love on Top, Schoolin’ Life, Best Thing I Never Had, 1+1
Overall: Lyrically basic, but musically versatile and non-conformist. Worth the money
When it comes to recording a new album, I think artists should enhance the best parts of their last effort and trash the worst. For the most part, that’s what Beyonce` did with her new release, “4.” For the most part. I’ll start with the strong points first. The previous “I Am…Sasha Fierce” was a two-disc record; the “I Am” disc full of ballads and mid-tempo tracks with metaphoric lyrics, while the other side featured faster urban and dance songs. Considering Beyonce’s repertoire, the “I Am” material was interesting and very experimentally different. To a degree, “4” is an extension of “I Am,” with mostly mid-tempo to slower tracks about being hopelessly in love (with the exception of “Countdown,” “Run the World” and “End of Time”). Those who like Beyonce` only when she’s shaking her junk will be disappointed. I applaud Beyonce` for defying the anticipated and NOT doing a techno-pop record.
“4” is a big, wonderful slice of unexpected. The material is such an eclectic mix musically, it’s almost hard to label what genre the album is holistically. It’s easier to peg what the influences are: 80’s R&B/pop, 90’s R&B, a little bit of rock and tribal music. Bouncy, breezy, “feel good” tracks like “Party” and “Love on Top” channel the prior eras the best. “Lay Up Under Me” is reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” and “1+1” and “Schoolin’ Life” reek of Prince. Beyonce` also unexpectedly pushes her typical bounds of sexual content, but isn’t explicit. “4’s” other strengths include live instrumentation and crisp vocals. The tribal feel kicks in with the album’s fastest songs. “End of Time” is the lovesick, better version of “Run the World,” being more smooth and melodic. “Countdown” will likely be popular, but I found it to be slightly immature. I panned “Run the World” in a single review for flimsy lyrics and recycled production. These 3 tribal tunes bring me to the weaknesses of the album. The 3 songs have a common pattern: verses that are melodically pale in comparison to their gradual, alluring and dramatic pre-choruses. They also highlight the over-simplicity of the album’s content.
Dropping “I Am’s” lyrical symbolism, most of the lines are pretty basic and do just enough to get the point across. The lyrics aren’t so elementary that they could be deemed ignorant or worthless, but they don’t require much interpretive thought. The best-written songs are “Rather Die Young” and “I Was Here” (Diane Warren). The other songs are written well in spots. I can appreciate the album having an overall theme (i.e. being painfully or crazily in love), but they are too many borderline-cheesy songs about how sprung she is, and due to the basic writing, some of the odes come off as school-girlish. Another issue the album has is its track-order. The first few tracks kind of make for a sleepy start, and as soon your emotions match the somber mood, the album jaggedly becomes upbeat, then somber, then upbeat again. The deluxe tracks (“Lay,” “Schoolin’” and “Dance for You”) make the record more complete; “4” is so enjoyable that 12 tracks just seems too short. An actual verse from Kanye West versus an intro on “Party” would’ve been nice and Beyonce` seems detached on “I Was Here.” She sings “Here” beautifully in a technical fashion, but doesn’t vocally encapsulate the emotion of the song.
All and all, I think “4” is great and will pleasantly surprise those that question Beyonce’s versatility or musical tastes. I love how unorthodox and musically blended the record is and most of all, that it’s age-appropriate. It’s mature enough that it isn’t a blatant attempt to cater to Justin Bieber’s fan-base, but isn’t so aged that 20-something’s and younger can’t appreciate it. Good go, B.