Is it just me, or are there way too many examples of why the pop cliché of having one hip-hop verse is just a terrible idea? It's rare for it to be pulled off in a convincing fashion without ruining the tempo or theme of the song (Jay-Z's intro to "Umbrella" is one of the few solid takes that comes to mind), and we've already had to deal with Snoop Dogg and Kanye West absolutely butchering two great Katy Perry songs this past year.
Next up on the list of pop carnage is Beyoncé's tune "Party,” featuring Andre 3000. While being further proof that the Outkast hiatus needs to end as quickly as possible, the rap legend's verse absolutely kills the song. Beyoncé goes into her partying and "push up on it" mode, then Andre starts babbling about how he feels old when younger dudes say they look up to him. To add to the mood, Kanye himself provides an intro/outro, stating, "We got the swag sauce/she drippin' Swagu." Absolutely brutal.
Now that I've got that off of my chest, let's get into the album itself. I was pretty pumped to see what Beyoncé would produce after watching her Target ad, but alas, my music soul has once again been poached by the popular genre and its big-budget marketing. While listening, it becomes clear that the singer's idea of switching things up comes via the song styles, not the lyrics or themes. This is fine, and it provides some nice diversity here and there, but there is absolutely nothin' doin' as far as transcendence.
Despite the lack of thematic oomph, Beyoncé shows why she has one of the best skill sets in the game. Who else can sing with Mariah and Leona, while maintaining such a badass streak? A lot of 4’s tracks deal with vulnerability, but Beyoncé possesses so much passion in her lungs that it sounds like she’s spinning a story about empowerment. On paper, the lyrics to “1+1” look like a nice, easy collection of sweet nothings to be whispered in a lover’s ear, but our girl basically goes H.A.M. on them, and the line “make love to me” is suddenly a demand that, if left unanswered, will result in immediate pain to the membrane, if you dig what I’m saying.
The first two singles, "Run The World (Girls)" and "Best Thing I Never Had" both do their job as catchy radio tracks, but they didn't achieve the smashing success that "Single Ladies" or "Halo" did. The little Michael-esque "Love On Top" is one of the strongest efforts on 4, with a catchy chord progression and the most pure happiness you'll get out of the singer in the album's 46 minutes.
Despite the clear talent present, there's something off. I mostly blame my disappointment with the product on the album name. "4" is a label you give to an epic album, one that is so damn good it doesn't need a god-damned name. If she had decided to go with one of the bland song titles like "I Miss You" or "Start Over," we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation, and I would be saying how it’s wonderful that Beyoncé is making dumb lyrics sound really cool.
For the most part, that is what this album is about: Beyoncé’s voice making up for the lack of intriguing songwriting. I think part of the blandness derives from the large pile of demos -- reports indicate that the songstress recorded 72 songs in the studio and left the label minions to sort through the valuable rubble. Doesn’t that send the message that Beyoncé just punched in to record her tunes then punched out when it came to the final say on the album?
An artist at her level should have the final say on what is included on her record, and how the album is organized. Maybe that’s just my attitude hopelessly conflicting with the grandeur of pop music, but I doubt Prince or Michael Jackson just said “here you go” and handed the keys over to the men in suits. It also bugs me to listen to a track from the album knowing it was one of 72. It gives me little inclination to believe that Beyoncé has any real emotion specifically invested in it.
It’s painfully obvious this diva is extremely comfortable where she is. Every song theme reeks of unoriginality, and even things like the catchy hook on “Countdown” have been done before. Lastly, Beyoncé finds herself in trouble with the lack of instant pop hits on 4. “Run the World (Girls)” and “Best Thing I Never Had” are good songs, but they haven’t hit the singles chart with much of a bang. There aren’t any really intriguing candidates for a top 10 song on the rest of the CD, as most of my favorites aren’t exactly designed for the top 40.
Beyoncé has made a commendable album, but nothing special. It was not the game-changing disc I expected, but it’s clear to me now that Beyoncé isn’t interested in any such thing.
Final rating: 3.5/5
You should consider downloading: "1+1" and "Love On Top"