As far as pop stars go, Beyoncé is as safe as you can get. Or at least that used to be the case. Her fans, myself included, used to buy everything she released. Heck, we even bought stuff she endorsed no matter how crappy they are.
And then she released “Run The World (Girls”) and somehow something felt off. The song was a mess. It still is. The video was fierce, and the performances of the song were hot. But music fans did not buy it. Beyoncé then did the impossible — releasing another mess in the form of “1 +1“. Even an American Idol performance couldn’t sell that ballad.
The official second single, “Best Thing I Never Had“, is an attempt to somehow recapture the magic of “Irreplaceable”. It’s a nice track, but it’s not exactly selling like hotcakes.
So, I guess it’s safe to say that Beyoncé’s 4 era isn’t off to a great start. That shouldn’t stop you from buying the album though. It’s actually a solid effort.
The album opens with the aforementioned “1+1″, a song that clearly works better as an album track than a single. The ballad provides a nice opening for the album and sets the tone for what’s to come.
“I Care” is another ballad, but it’s succeeds where “1+1″ doesn’t: combining an infectious beat with some decent lyrics. Actually, listening to the whole album, you might get perplexed why Beyoncé chose to perform “1+1″ on Idol. Simply put, it’s the weakest ballad here. “I Miss You” and “Rather Die Young”, for instance, have much better melodies and lyrics. Even the over-dramatic “I Was Here” is slightly better.
It is in these ballads though that Beyoncé finally takes some risk with her music. Her vocals in these tracks are raw and rough around the edges. Home girl simply sang her heart out.
She achieves in these songs what she didn’t in the “I am..” side of her last album. Finally, she is able to show a certain level of vulnerability and sincerity on record. Perhaps it’s the fact that she’s singing about being in love this time. It’s as if we’re finally getting to know the real Beyoncé.
That said, the album picks up pace eventually. “Countdown” is a good album track reminiscent of the Bday era. “End of Time” is a nice dance pop track that probably would have been the perfect first single for this album. Unlike Girls, Time is much more consistent with what Beyoncé has done in the past. It’s catchy and fierce without being noisy. Plus,the performance of this song this weekend from Glastonbury has nothing been short of hawtness.
My fave tracks from the album are those that have some 70s & 80s influences in them. “Party”, which features André 3000 and Kanye West, has nice melodies. It’s the type of song that you can’t help but sing along with. Similarly, “Love on Top” is a cheerful track about falling in love. “Schoolin’ Life“, a bonus track, is another feel good, soulful song that has an infectious chorus. What I like about these three tracks is that Beyoncé, the diva, shows a lot of restraint and just lets the songs speak for themselves.
Speaking of bonus tracks, both “Dance for You” and “Lay Up Under Me” are decent tracks, but the Girls remixes simply aren’t worth the listen. A bad song remixed is still a bad song.
In many ways, 4 is a return to Beyoncé’s roots. The RnB and Urban sounds here remind me a lot of her debut Dangerously In Love. In someways, this album abandons many of the pop offerings of her last album.
Will 4 become a career-defining album for Bey? Probably not — we tend to remember albums that are both a critical and a commercial hit. This will not be the biggest commercial album of her career. But you should give this album a chance. Sasha Fierce may have left the building, but you might actually like the real Beyoncé.