Simply put, Beyonce’s fourth album, aptly titled ‘4’, is a funhouse ride of musical genres, leading to an unorganized mess of a good release. You probably wouldn’t expect any less from an artist winning Millennium Awards with only three solo albums. As always, the media does a great job of praising Bey’s effortless vocals, her sidestepping video moves, and her flawless looks. But there’s usually one thing missing – her subject matter. Some call her matter choices ‘overly hood’ and ‘recycled’, but still ‘catchy’ and ‘perfect’. Bey’s tightrope between questionable and innovative, tied with her pattern of stolen songs and possible #jiggaballads has spawned #the4era, and it’s definitely not an easy sell.
‘1+1’, the set opener, sets the tone for the album with an epic grammar fail (“I don’t know much ‘bout algeba”). With a Dream demo version online for about a year containing the exact same lyrics, the authenticity in her songwriting is shown already (she receives a credit only for the rearrangement). ‘I Care’ packs powerful vocals over hard Jeff Bhasker (Kanye’s producer for ‘808s and Heartbreak’) drums. The song, written with Chad Hugo, showcases her raw vocal ability and while sung great, is another bold move to start off an anticipated.
The Coldplay-influenced ‘I Miss You’ begins with strange Frank Ocean adlibs, followed by the most stripped down Beyonce performance to date. “Words don’t ever seem to come out right, but I still mean ‘em, why is that? / It hurts my pride to tell you how I feel, but I still need to, why is that?” goes the Ocean-written verse, followed by a simple chorus and arrangement that excels as a standout on ‘4’. Second single “Best Thing I Never Had” is “co-written” (quotes intended) by Babyface, and like its “If I Were A Boy” predecessor, becomes yet another ladies anthem for her belt. While the song is executed near flawlessly, written to the nosebleeds, and #performanceready, one has to question, again, how many anthems will we receive before her subjects progress? Other artists evolve from each album, while Bey’s #girlpower mantra remains at the centerfold of every release.
The summer, radio unfriendly “Party” features a stellar verse from Andre 3000 and beats from Kanye West. Beyonce’s old school R&B homage and higher register vocals are commendable here, and the Slick Rick sample sets a great summer mood. ‘Rather Die Young’ is one pretty damn amazing Beyonce ballad, and the most anticipated to hear live (imo). The powerful vocals during the chorus matched with her softer, sensual register work extremely well, and help save the somewhat repetitive album.
‘Start Over’ comes on powerful and dark, and sets the mood for self-inspiration. Ester’s verses matched with Sasha Fierce gives off a #fireworkeffect, and is probably the only guaranteed #1 single on the album. Unlike the others, this song will be successful without an elaborate, shoulder-shruggy video. It’s beyond an easy sell for both urban and mainstream radio if ever pushed by Columbia. Surprisingly co-written with The-Dream, ‘Love On Top’ really makes me smile. It may have the cookout/family reunion/grad afterparty feel, but it is extremely well-sung and goes beyond my Bey expectations as a former #beysusstanturnedkatycat. In case you didn’t notice, every time she sings the chorus, her vocals go up an entire register, and it’s only gonna take #one live performance for her to set an example for other R&B artists.
Now as for ‘Countdown’, Bey’s true message on this one requires a deeper analysis, by looking at two lyric segments.
“Still all up on each other, aint a damn thing changed / my girls cant tell me nothing, I’m gone in the brain / I’m all up under him like its cold, wintertime / all up in the kitchen in my heels, dinnertime.”
Looks like someone found Nicki’s rhyme method (known as punch and word) and made themselves a banji, yet really funny Jay-Bey synopsis. The numeric countdown seems appropriate here, especially the “tryin to make a 3 / from the 2, still the one” scenario.
“If I put it on him, it aint nothing that I cant do / yup I buy my own if he deserve it, I buy his shit too / all up in the store, shorty trickin if I want to / all up in the store, shawty fly as we want to”
I don’t endorse #tricking as evidenced here, but is Bey’s cockiness believable here, or does it come off the result of suspect songwriting? Very catchy especially with the beat breakdown, but the “my boo Coo’ riding” part comes off just as questionable as most of her uptempos.
‘End Of Time’, produced by one of my favorite UK producers Switch and Diplo, is the true album standout. From the beat build throughout the beginning, to the scratched up vocals during the beat switch, Bey has her hands on a true winner here, and will excel further pending a heavily choreographed video. “I Was Here” proves Beyonce’s iconic status, hands down. Written by the exclusive Diane Warren, it stands as the only song on the disc with no Bey writing credit. Warren has been writing hits for over 25 years and she only writes the REALLY big songs, so taking a back seat on any credit here was the only option. The end result became what could actually be her swan song, as Bey proudly sings: “the hearts I have touched, will be the proof that I leave / that I made a difference, and this world will see”, using past-tense throughout via Diane emphasis.
‘Run The World (Girls)’, the album closer, is a songwriting nightmare, and I still don’t understand how people take her seriously unless she delivers a hot video. “I think I need a barber, none of these niggas can fade me / I’m so good with this, I remind you I’m so hood with this” comes off laughable and unbelievable at best. To take Bey’s first single as a recycled ladies anthem when she’s screeching about cutting checks and demanding payment is a prime career step backward. A lot of people only listen to beats when it comes to music, and sometimes are afraid to seek true meaning behind the songs they love. Columbia’s demands for Bey to rerecord are granted, as this is nowhere close to single material – unless she delivers some trendy moves in a deserted building (again!) with fire (again!).
In all, Beyonce’ could have given her urban fans an album like ‘B’Day’, filled with BBQ ready club beats and classy lyrics, but she chose the self-motivated ‘live performance vocals’ with ‘influences from different genres’. We saw more ladies anthems and the one quintessential #hoodjam per release (see That’s How You Like It, Upgrade U, Diva, and now Countdown).We’ll see, maybe ‘1+1’ does equal ‘3’ instead of ‘4’. Or better yet, maybe ‘4’ grants everyone the one chance to actually listen to Beyonce’s true artistic message. Whether she will break records and win Grammys, one has to compare her singles (the true record keeper) against her direct counterparts (Rihanna, Mary, and now sad to say, Kelly Rowland). One thing’s for certain – the day ‘Run The World (Girls)’ wins a Grammy will be the day I give up on music.