Beyonce’s 4 has been quite the subject of discussion over at Popblerd HQ. With so many opinions about the pop star’s work and the controversy surrounding the album (after several songs from the album underperformed and the entire set leaked about a month before release, it was rumored that Beyonce’s record company asked her to go back into the studio and retool the album. These rumors have been categorically denied all around), it was only right that we gave you multiple viewpoints. So GG, Drew and myself put pen to paper and…well, here’s what we think of Beyonce’s latest album. Let’s let the young’n in the conversation go first. Drew, have at it!
Drew: If Lady Gaga’s Born This Way was a declarative refutation of any and all “one-album wonder” accusations, Beyonce’s new platter, 4, is simply a reminder to the world that not only does B still exist, but she’s the best pop artist going right now. Ms. Knowles (Mrs. Z?) is hardly reinventing the wheel here, but if the inventively-titled 4 has a thesis statement, it is this: “I’m awesome, and here is why.” Remarkable in its consistency, Beyonce delivers track after track of heart-stopping pop moments: “Love on Top” sounds like a perfectly addictive throwback New Edition jam until it culminates in a frenzied succession of dizzying key changes, each one more superfluous – and, yet, glorious – than the last; “Rather Die Young” sounds a fairly rote, if pleasant, slow jam until Beyonce sinks her teeth into a ferocious chorus; and Andre 3000 drops by for funked-out headnodder “Party” (which plays out a lot more laid-back than one would assume), dropping a dexterous verse that almost makes you forget that, earlier in the song, Kanye popped in to coin the term “Swagu”. Throughout, Beyonce is a vocal steamroller, vacillating from Prince coos (“1+1” may be Beyonce’s “Beautiful Ones”) to full-bodied yells, every syllable fraught with melodrama and emotion like a sexy Meat Loaf. The piano-led “Best I Never Had” is full of both pitched regret and snarling invective, and it’s a showstopper (on both this record and the Broadway show that it will one day inevitably be a part of); after an album of songs that terrific, it’s almost forgivable that this album ends with 4‘s limp first single “Run the World (Girls)”. As a whole, this album is a perfect statement of purpose, an immaculate summer party record, and another in a line of stellar albums for our generation’s greatest pop singer. Grade: A-
GG: The new Beyonce album is wildly inconsistent and at times, a frenetic mess, but I like it more than I expected to. I didn’t like her alter ego Sasha Fierce at all. I thought it was the worst kind of music to put out for an artist of who I expected better. But maybe my expectations are too high. Maybe she doesn’t have that one great album in her. I will admit to listening to 4 with biased ears the first go around because I wasn’t expecting much. As I allowed myself to get into it on the second listen, she shows some growth. I still think she over-sings and awkwardly shrieks unnecessarily, but you can see that this version of Beyonce has lived and experienced more in life than the previous Beyonce (or Sasha Fierce).
Run The World (Girls) was a poorly chosen first single because the good stuff on the album isn’t meaningless like that song is. 1+1 (forgive the gun metaphor) and I Miss You come right from the heart and I feel like she’s genuine for once. This isn’t Deanna Jones or Jay-Z’s girl. This is really Beyonce. She still has her missteps like Countdown which cornily (put that one in the dictionary!) uses the a sample of Boyz II Men counting from 10 to 1 in Uhh Ahh, but she’s always going to have those kind of missteps in this era of making songs that would look good for videos. Her first album is still probably her best album, but this one shows good growth. As Big Money Mike likes to say, artists need to make albums that relate to people their age. This is Beyonce making a album as a 29-year-old married woman. It’s probably only about a 6 out of 10, but as Cliff Huxtable once told a young Theo, he’ll take a hard B over an easy A any day. Grade: B
Blerd: Beyonce’s disappointed me enough times that I had pretty low expectations for 4. After “Run the World (Girls)” premiered, those expectations were practically nonexistent. So the fact that I not only like, but love 4 comes as a surprise, to say the least.
I’ve been waiting for a long time for Beyonce to grow up, basically. My beef with her has never been about talent. Beyonce is blessed beyond recognition with gifts-stage presence, good looks, an excellent voice. However, it’s one thing to sing well, and it’s quite another thing to apply those talents correctly. There were way too many instances of Beyonce sounding detached from her songs. They were sung well, but not sung with real emotion and feeling. That’s definitely not the issue this time, as she tears through most of the songs on 4 like a pit bull ripping through a raw steak. It would seem as though her life experience has finally caught up with her voice, and the results are uniformly solid. When they’re not solid, they’re glorious.
You know how you know you’re dealing with real talent? When they can take the most banal of ballads and give them life. Beyonce gets a handful of them here, courtesy of songwriters Babyface and Diane Warren, whose best days are well behind them. Nevertheless, “Best I Never Had” and the triumphant “I Was Here” are winners. “1 + 1” is an obvious Prince rip that, again, moves to the next level based on B’s vocals. Even the fact that Beyonce can’t write a good lyric to save her life isn’t that much of a hindrance this time around. The aforementioned “Run the World (Girls)” and “End of Time” are throwaways, and only an imaginative broken-up Boyz II Men sample saves “Countdown”, but she more than redeems herself with tracks like the smooth Kanye and Andre 3000-assisted “Party” and the album’s Eighties-inspired standout tracks “Schoolin’ Life” (available only on the deluxe edition) and “Love on Top”. Drew says it reminds him of New Edition. Personally, it reminds me of an Al Jarreau track from the early Eighties. Beyonce ends the song by thrusting herself into a dizzying series of key changes-stopping just short of the point where I was about to say “OK, enough already” It’s a dizzying display that’s a little on the show-off side, sure. But B’s invested enough in the lyric that the histrionics don’t seem unnecessarily over-the-top.
When lukewarm reviews started pouring in for 4, I had an inkling that I’d dig this album, since the things most pop-culture outlets usually praise Beyonce for, I don’t particularly care for. I still think the fact that “Single Ladies” won a Grammy for songwriting is almost as embarrassing as the Milli Vanilli Best New Artist fiasco. So, the fact that I like 4 as much as I do isn’t totally surprising. I don’t know that anyone would say that Beyonce has created a classic album yet, but I will say that her latest effort comes closest, or at least indicates that she might have a truly great album somewhere in her. Grade: B+
Incoming search terms:
- what is swagu