I’ve never been a Beyoncé “fan.” I’m familiar with the diva’s work, from Destiny’s Child to her solo work, but I can honestly say that I have never listened to any of her albums from start to finish. Before 4, that is.
Advance reviews of 4 heralded it as an album that bucked trends and blockbuster singles in favor of ’90s R&B textures and smooth ballads, and, I’ll admit, I got a bit excited. I am something of a sucker for the sounds of the ’90s. Maybe it’s because my mom had the radio on all the time when I was young, or maybe it’s because we all want to feel nostalgic about something. Whatever the reason, I can say that Beyoncé did not disappoint me.
The first song on the album, “1+1,” has been around for a while — kicked around as a single and as a cell phone video from hubby Jay-Z – but in the context of the album it is better than ever. The singers’ amazing vocals dominate the slow burning ballad and throughout the song you can hear the passion in her voice and feel the sincerity in what she is singing.
On almost every track Beyoncé croons with the same earnestness, and every ballad feels intimate. This album is clearly a statement by the artist: she is making it perfectly clear that she is happy in love and doesn’t need to write about “putting a ring on it” anymore. She is comfortable but manages to express her pleasure without making comfortable music.
This is most evident on “Best Thing I Never Had,” an open letter to a former flame who clearly missed the boat with Mrs. Carter. What I liked most about the song, however, is the vocal harmonies in the chorus. The choir of women singing the refrain reminded me early Mariah Carey, i.e. “Dreamlover.”
I really wanted to like the next song, “Party,” one of the few non-ballads on the album, but I absolutely could not. Andre 3000’s rap is spot on and the sultry synthesizers remind me of a Toni Braxton track. But in the first ten seconds of the song Kanye West sings, “You got the swag sauce, you’re drippin’ Swagoo;” this phrase made me feel sick, and when it is repeated at the end of the song it reaffirmed my hatred (rationally or not).
“Party” is really the only flat spot on 4, the rest of the album more than makes up for that misstep. “Love On Top,” with its funky bass line and bouncy synths really stood out, as did “I Was Here, which” features Beyoncé’s voice superbly and helps draw the album towards a close nicely.
Perhaps the best song on the album, though, is “End of Time.” The staccato beat and humid Cuban horn section are reminiscent of Gloria Estefan’s “Conga.” Much of the credit for this song goes to producers The-Dream, Switch and Diplo; their contributions push this song above and beyond the other fantastic songs on 4.
But it is Knowles, herself, who deserves the most respect for this album. Besides simply performing out of her mind, she is credited as a producer on every song and has a song writing credit on every song but “I Was Here.” This album is truly her work, and it is very well done.
I’m not sure if I could be considered a Beyoncé fan now, but I do know that I would recommend 4 to any and all music fans.