In a strange way Beyoncé is a victim of her own success. She’s the closest we now have to Michael Jackson, a transcendent entertainer with the power to both sell out stadiums and have the White House on speed dial (and handcuff Jay while she’s at it). She is the pure embodiment of pop, a woman able to simply overwhelm her more girlish competitors like Rihanna and not nearly as over-the-top as Lady Gaga. But Beyoncé is also a student of history and she knows that all the true soul greats, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, …
DJBooth Album Review
Beyoncé’s previous album, I Am…Sasha Fierce was a concept album without a real concept; what was the difference between Beyoncé and Sasha again? Higher heels? A different color eye shadow? So it only makes sense that for her new effort, the aptly named 4, the Queen B has rolled out a much more striped down, simple album steeped in ‘80s and ‘90s R&B. It also focuses, not so coincidentally, not on Beyoncé the diva, or the global icon, but on Beyoncé the person, a woman who goes through the same relationship struggles as the average woman….only the average woman doesn’t have a husband who buys her a yacht as a make up gift.
There’s no clearer announcement of Beyoncé’s intentions on 4 than starting the album off with 1 + 1, a Dream and Tricky Stewart produced track that’s one of the duo’s more organic efforts ever (what happened to those “A”s?). Essentially conceived as a vessel for her powerhouse voice, 1 + 1 is vocally impressive, though strange. Considering the force B is delivering her lines with you’d think this is an angry break up song, not a pure love ballad. Rather Die Young is perhaps less notable but more coherent, as is the heartbroken Start Over, but for my money the best of the ballad bunch is I Was Here, a cinematic tale that’s also its most purely inspirational anthem. With rare exception (check the next paragraph) 4 mostly stays in this mid-tempo range, a fact that has to be considered a constant statement at a time when uptempo club tracks have taken over R&B, pop and hip-hop.
Speaking of which, the album’s lone Sasha Fierce-esque contribution is the hyper-kinetic Run the World (Girls), a song that’s shares very little, if anything, with the other songs it shares 4 with. It turns out that while personal ballads may be great for making an artistic statement they’re not so great for worldwide tours. Girls aside, and it really does deserve a separate categorization, the album’s only real loose record is Party, which tellingly reaches back to old standards like Keith Sweat and Andre 3000, not Pitbull and Far East Movement, to get the party started. Kanye’s insistence on peppering the song with Swagu sauce aside, it’s an enjoyable experience, as is Love On Top, which rides easily on a Quincy Jones inspired structure and the horn heavy Countdown, the album’s only real evidence of Beyoncé’s hip-hop influences. Together these songs are enough to keep 4 from sounding overly serious, though not nearly enough to significantly change its overall tone. This album isn’t a good time, but it’s not a bad time.
I’ve always had the vague sense that, like any truly great entertainer, Beyoncé is always playing a part. She’s far too skilled to make it look obvious or false, but can we say we actually know B as a person. When you’re that famous every move has to be carefully choreographed and while I suspect 4 was made in large part to sound more natural and real, it doesn’t succeed entirely. The album is a refreshingly understated change from the constantly banging and bumping sound of modern R&B, but it doesn’t really bring us closer to the Queen B. The throne remains as hard to reach as ever and perhaps that’s for the best. We want our pop idols on a pedestal, it’s the only way we can look up to them.
Listen to More: Beyoncé Written by Nathan S.
Featured Songs From This Album
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"Deja Vu" (2006)
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