Album Review: Beyoncé, “4” (2011)

To be honest, I’ve never been much of a Beyoncé fan. Sure, I can sing along with most of her hit singles, but I’ve never owned a single album of hers, probably wouldn’t see her on tour (unless tickets were ridiculously cheap) and can’t even tell you many facts about her, other than she got her start with Destiny’s Child and is married to Jay-Z.

When her latest album, 4, hit stores, I was intrigued, mostly because a friend of mine whom works for Sony Records did the mixing on some of the songs.* I bought the album solely for that reason- to support my friend and to hear the songs he worked on. However, I ended up being pleasantly surprised and found 4 to be one of my favorite releases from this summer.

The album begins with a slow burning ballad about passionate love, titled 1+1. I’m always on the fence with my feelings about Beyoncé’s vocals- I think she tends to over sing a bit too much- however, she sounds appropriately sultry as she sings the lines, “Baby, we ain’t got nothing but love. And darling you got enough for the both of us; so come on, baby- make love to me.” Even though I think a ballad is an odd choice for the album’s opener, the song works extremely well, reminding us of Beyoncé’s powerhouse vocals, and ending with a killer electric guitar solo.

I Care follows and is another mid-tempo ballad, though this time around, Beyoncé sings about love that’s gone awry. For the most part, the song is typical R&B fare- a catchy chorus, a bouncy beat, and soulful singing, making for a take-or-leave track.

The second single, Best Thing I Never Had, also falls in the take it or leave it category for me. Lyrically, the song is interesting, as Beyoncé sings about a relationship that ends prematurely and the end, in hindsight, turns out to be a blessing in disguise. However, I find the backing music and chorus to be extremely cheesy, and the production is weak. The song really feels like something that would’ve been released about ten years ago, and I don’t mean that in a good way.

Beyonce, 2007

Outkast’s Andre 3000, and Kanye West make guest appearances on Party. Kanye opens the track, rapping, “You a bad girl, and your friends bad too- you got the swag sauce, you drippin’ swagu.” Yes,swagu. How Kanye makes a bad pun on spaghetti sauce seem cool, I’ll never quite understand, but I digress. Andre 3000’s rap during the middle of the song is equally smooth, though not entirely necessary. The song is pretty forgettable- the chorus and lyrics are substandard- but Kanye’s brief appearance at the beginning is probably the best thing about the track.

My favorite song on the album (which coincidentally happens to be one of the tracks that my friend mixed) is, Rather Die Young. “Boy, you’ll be the death of me. You’re my James Dean, you make me feel like I’m 17,” are the opening lines, and set the tone for a song about a guy that’s so irresistibly bad. I have no clue if Beyoncé is still singing love songs about Jay-Z, but I can imagine this song could apply to their relationship, especially when they first began dating and much media attention was given to the fact that Beyoncé was R&B’s good girl, while Jay-Z was notoriously known for being somewhat of a bad boy. The song definitely has a laid back, 80’s R&B/Prince vibe to it, which I dig, and Beyoncé’s vocals are strong and convincing, especially as she belts out the chorus, “I’d rather die young, than to live my life without you.”

Another favorite of mine comes towards the beginning of the album with, I Miss You. The track is an angst-ridden story of a relationship with a lot of complications, though the chorus repeats the sentiment of missing the other person. Beyoncé delivers her vocals in a seductive tone and combined with the slick production (mostly composed of synthesizers and a drum loop), the track is an easy one to play on repeat for a while as you sink into the smooth sound.

As the disc has its hits, it definitely has its misses. Start Over begins with some tribal-sounding drums, and though the sound is unique, the lyrics are pretty typical, about the end of a relationship. Beyoncé’s vocals aren’t anything worth mentioning either, and the song is usually a skip for me. The same goes for Love On Top, a song which is an obvious throwback to the Motown days. I actually could see Alicia Keys singing this song and doing a better job of it, though I’m not sure why- I think Beyoncé sounds fine, but the song misses a little something extra to really make it stand out.

Countdown is the typical “going out with the girls” type song, as Beyoncé sings about pleasing her man. Again, lyrically and musically the song is fairly typical. The horns and busy backing production are a bit over the top, and the track really reminds me of something Destiny’s Child would’ve released back in their heyday. Meanwhile, End of Time just sounds like a busier sequel to the song proceeding it; more horns and drum loops come into play and the production is just so busy and loud that I can never listen to the complete song without skipping it about halfway through.

The album comes to an end with two very different songs. I Was Here is another ballad, though this time Beyoncé sings about wanting to leave her mark on the world in some big way. I actually quite enjoy the lyrics this time around; though lines like, “The hearts that I touched will be the proof that I leave that I made a difference, and this world will see I was here ” are a bit clichéd, I find the fact that Beyoncé is trying for poignancy commendable. The album’s lead single, Run The World (Girls), may be the most annoying song in the world- at least in my opinion. Again, it’s the busy production- a cacophony of drums, synthesizers and other sounds which I can’t even name- that gives me a headache. The music, paired with the lyrical content- once again about female empowerment- yes, Beyoncé, we get it, you’re an independent woman and a survivor, and you don’t need anyone to pay your bills, bills, bills- just irk me. I suppose the song is supposed to be some sort of club anthem, but I, without a doubt, would just walk off the dance floor if this song was played while I was in a club.

All in all, 4 is a strong album. As I don’t have any of Beyoncé’s other releases to compare and contrast with, I can’t say if she’s improved vocally or lyrically, but I can say that any R&B fan would enjoy the majority of this album.

Rating: 1000px-3.5_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. 1+1
2. I Care
3. I Miss You
4. Best Thing I Never Had
5. Party – (featuring Andr‚ 3000)
6. Rather Die Young
7. Start Over
8. Love on Top
9. Countdown
10. End of Time
11. I Was Here
12. Run the World (Girls)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBmMU_iwe6U]

*I have since found out that the “friend” was probably a pathological liar and never worked for Sony records and/or was Catfishing many of us via Twitter.  But that’s a whole ‘nother story, haha.

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