Jul 18, 2011 Web Exclusive
Beyoncé Knowles has always kept excellent company and on her fittingly-titled fourth album, 4, it seems she’s learned that consistent company makes for a consistent album. The-Dream (Terius Nash)—the man responsible for “Single Ladies” and Rihanna’s “Umbrella”—co-wrote approximately half the album. This fact no doubt helps account for why 4 is Beyoncé’s most cohesive and satisfying LP.
In the press, Beyoncé made a shamelessly hipster-baiting fuss about how the album was influenced by Fela Kuti, which, it turns out, isn’t terribly accurate. 4 does boast a impressive arsenal of martial drums on a number of tracks, as well as other hipster catnip such as Frank Ocean, Andre 3000, Kanye West, and the Major Lazer-sampling single “Run the World (Girls).”
The oft maligned “Run the World (Girls)” finds Beyoncé making a crass grab for M.I.A.’s polyglot-pop steez and, thankfully, it’s an outlier on 4. Oddly enough, it also sounds better in the context of the album. 4’s second single, the Sam Cooke and Prince inspired “1+1,” is much more indicative of the album as a whole. Beyoncé’s magnificent vocal performance culminates in a guitar solo dripping with Purple Rain.
Surprisingly, 4 lacks the kind of songs tailor-made to become chart-toppers and it’s stronger for it. The album’s overarching theme of finding joy in life-long love and devotion resonates strongest in the somber, luminous swoon of “I Miss You.” However, the exuberant march of “Countdown” and its refrain of “Ladies, if you love your man, show you the fliest/Grind up on it, girl, show him how you ride it” feels like a sleeper hit waiting to happen.
The missteps on 4 are pretty minor, but the overwrought, Diane Warren-penned ballad “I Was Here” is absolutely unnecessary. Imperfections and all, 4 shows that Beyoncé is willing to defy expectations and embrace her eccentricities. In doing so, she has crafted her most personal and affecting album to date. (www.beyonceonline.com)
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Average reader rating: 6/10
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