Beyoncé 4- Album Friday Review

I love Beyoncé. I'm going to put it out there, I do. I have queued outside her gigs for hours to be in the front row. I have touched the woman herself as she sang Halo less than a foot from me. I have shook my booty for the whole length of her career from Destiny's Child all the way through her solo work. When I grow up, I fully intend to be Beyoncé. So just so we're clear. I love Beyoncé.

So when all of a sudden there was the announcement that her new album 4 would be out shortly I got hugely excited. The announcement was followed by the radically different Who Run the World (girls) which initially I wasn't sure about but now really like. I was eager for the album. If this was the pre-cursor to the sound, I was excited. It sounded new, fresh. The Fela Kuti style drums, the all over military swell which came from the pounding track. The signs were good.

Of course the next inkling of the album was Jay-Z filming his wife as she sang 1+1 backstage at American Idol, a solid track, the signs were good and the excitement for the album release was rising. So last week I finally got the album in my grubby little mitts and I was delighted.You remember in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Charlie opens the one bar of chocolate he buys in the shop and reveals the golden ticket, the shopkeeper shouts 'run home, as fast as you can, don't stop' and off he goes. That was me.

So I bolted home to listen to the album. I listened to it once through, then again whilst making dinner. I find the second time through usually points to the really memorable tracks, especially when you're doing something distracting at the same time. So I thought I'd take it track by track and give you an idea about the album.

Track 1-1+1
I had heard Beyoncé sing this previously with just piano and the version was infinitely superior. Its a solid vocal from her although the clunkiness of the guitar is hugely distracting. It lacks something in the arrangement, and although its a really nice tool for her to show off some excellent vocals there are parts which just need the backing singers which she has in her live show. The guitar solo mid way through starts to turn it into a Bon Jovi record which is an odd twist. Its a song that doesn't know what its trying to be, its a ballad with 70s style guitar then it moves into Bon Jovi with a heavy R&B vocal over the top. Confusing. The thing is, its a lovely song when its stripped back. This performance illustrates how minus the top heavy production how solid this track is. If you have the album version, compare and see what you think. This is a much more natural fit for Beyoncé.

Track 2- I Care
The synth heavy track really strikes a chord. It is very 1980s reminiscent, it has a much darker tone which suits it much better. The attitude in the vocal really melds well with the synth. An angry song, it seems quite by the book for Beyoncé but it works well for her. Another somewhat superfluous guitar segment but we're starting to see a real emphasis on rock guitar in the album and style fusion so it doesn't come as much of a surprise. Solid track.

Track 3-I Miss You
More synth and guitar, very pronounced percussion like segments. The problem seems to arise again with the song not melding with the production that its given. I Miss You is a ballad, echoing 1980's, I get a little bit of a Toto, REO Speedwagon vibe off the melody. This isn't a song that you're going to be humming, it is (dare I say it) dull. Its a very understated song, another solid vocal.

Track 4- Best Thing I Never Had
The second single from the album, it is Irreplaceable Part 2. There is vocally more connection here, Babyface who co-wrote the song has built on Beyoncé's strength as a performer and given her a really vocally performative set of lyrics. This one is full of swells of vocals, runs and seems to be classic Beyoncé at her best, this will be a staple for her future gigs. We have already seen the effectiveness of it at Glastonbury. The Kuti drums make an appearance here again but to a much lesser extent. Great track, Beyoncé at her most comfortable.

Track 5- Party (Feat. Andre 3000)
Another smooth ballad reminiscent of En Vogue. Starts of rather promisingly with a rap introduction from Andre 3000. This is followed by a smooth vocal set harmony driven by a little synth. It is really heavily influenced by the 1980's, picture yourself playing GTA Vice City, you're driving along the Miami beach front with your radio tuned to Emotion. This will be playing. The rap jars with the style of the song, it doesn't add to it. If Jay's appearance on Crazy in Love is the barometer, he sent that track stratospheric with his sections, but Andre's rap sections just seem to be surplus, and once you get into the song they're a bit annoying. It could be argued there's nothing party about this song, its a bit of a misnomer. It doesn't feel like Beyoncé at all, definitely feels like it has been lifted from an 80's En Vogue album.

Track 6-Rather Die Young
Another smooth vocal harmony driven ballad. This is getting a little tedious. It's slow and honestly is a little 'elevator music'. Far too filled with 1980's production. Beyoncé delivers a really good vocal but there are too many synth hoops to jump through. It feels dated, and very unlike her.

Track 7- Start Over
A Kuli influenced start to the track, it feels like a purer sound. Another impeccable vocal with a lot of strength and emotion behind it. It isn't a particularly remarkable track even with a good vocal, it has a nice tribal hint to its production which actually really helps it. It doesn't stand out though, which is a shame.

Track 8- Love on Top
An upbeat, cheesy synth ridden track. 1980's Whitney Houston has arrived in the album, it is a cross between 1960s Tamla girl group and Ms Houston's 'Wanna Dance with Somebody'. I'm unconvinced, call me a philistine but its another hugely dated track, which no doubt would have Pete Waterman tapping his toes. It is relentlessly upbeat and speaks to Beyonce's love for classic influences. The final sections with the upward modulation through the combination of choruses is impressive and even though its an odd track this is the point where Beyoncé really sells it. It isn't my cup of tea, but I have no doubt there will be a lot of people who will love the Houston influences.

Track 9- Countdown
The album starts to pick up pace at this point. The drums and synth combine to give a thread through to Run TheWorld (girls). Countdown is an upbeat track which feels really fresh even with its samples, the drums work really well. Its a huge relief after Love on Top, its funky, it illustrates how the influences which are rife within the album can work together well. Definitely a stomping track.

Track 10- End of Time
An excellent track, it starts eerily like Annie Lennox's Little Bird. The military drums filter through from Countdown and the listener can sense a build up to Run the World (Girls) it feels like Miami Sound Machine, that 1980's vibe is coming off it, but is instantly updated with the absolutely banging drums. This is going to be huge, it is a very summery feeling song. If it is released it will be a playlist favourite.

Track 11- I Was Here
The momentum of the last tracks shudder to a screeching halt with a ballad. I'm not sure where this would best fit but its placement toward the end of the album really interrupts the pace which was driving it. Its a solid performance from Beyoncé it'll probably be the type of ballad which will work better when it is performed live. Halo for example on the album didn't do much but live became a show stopper. I think this is a definite grower, mainly because of the vocal gymnastics which are executed so well. It is just a shame its been placed toward the end of the album. It would be better earlier in the track listing.

Track 12- Run the World (Girls)
Everyone knows this track, the Pon de Floor sample gives this track a whole new apocalyptic feel.It is a departure from Beyonce's usual style but it is strong and fierce. The drums are epic and the earlier drum heavier tracks have built up to this point. As a final song it is the song the listener has been waiting for throughout the album and doesn't disappoint.Play it loud and give it your best salute.

My deluxe album had a bonus disc with three extra tracks and 3 remixes of Run This World (Girls) I'll give a quick run down of the three new tracks.

Bonus 1- Lay Up Under Me
Another 1980s styled song, it doesn't do very much, its omission from the main album was a good thing. It has a similarity to Love On Top with much too chirpy brass sections. Another dated sound really misses the mark.

Bonus 2- Schoolin' Life
Starts with a similarity to Jermaine Stewart's We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off, lyrically its very similar This One's for the Girl's by Martina McBride. It's very upbeat, again very heavy in 1980s synth and production style, it would not be out of place played over a montage in 3 Men and a Baby. Really confusing combination of 1980s styles at this point my ears are growing tired of them.

Bonus 3- Dance for You
A slow soulful song, very reminiscent of Cater to You thematically it is very similar also. It is Beyoncé by numbers but doesn't really add anything special to the mix. It is very easy listening and funky, it doesn't seem to have the 1980s production, but is a lot smoother than some of the others.

So in all what can I say? Well as a huge Beyoncé fan I'm disappointed. Beyoncé submitted 72 songs to her record company all recorded and for them to choose from, she has worked really hard on creating a sound and a style. This album really gives the impression that Beyoncé wants to try something different. The fusion of styles and influences are hard for an R&B singer to pull off, rock guitars, 1980s synth harmony. The parts which work best are the Kuli drum styles which when they arrive in songs are an absolutely joyous relief they unite and link songs to each other, they're fresh and interesting. Unfortunately there's too much middle of the road dated 1980s pop, part of me is wondering 'what were they thinking?.' I think the strongest songs will become staples in her repertoire but the risk taken with the 80s pop just doesn't seem to do anything. There is a sense that we have heard this all before with Whitney Houston's early work.

Half good, half odd, half Sasha Fierce, half Whitney Houston. It is an interesting foray for her but I'm not sure some of the tracks really do much but allow her producers to break out their synthesisers. Its no B-Day or Sasha Fierce, the good tracks are very good, the others passable. Its worth a listen, Beyoncé fans like myself will stick with it and become devoted to our favourite tracks. I'm getting my military gear on again for Edge of Time, its a real stomper.

It gets 3/5 stars from me.


P.S I wish I could have raved about how amazing the album was, it honestly hurts me more than it hurts you... lol.


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