Friday, 24 June 2011

Review: 4 by Beyonce...

As the title of the album suggests, this is the fourth solo album* from the lead singer of now defunct girl-group Destiny's Child. The album title is not just meant to signify that this is the fourth solo release, but it also meant to represent the day of her birth [4th September 1981] and the fact that she married her husband [Jay-Z] on the 4th of the month [4th April 2008]. The album title is meant to be a "personal gift to her fans", as apparently her fans "have been taking to various social media pages urging her to name the album after her 'special number'". The album was recorded over a year between the spring of 2010 and the spring of 2011, while Beyonce took a break from the spotlight. 

"'The album is definitely an evolution. It's bolder than the music in my previous albums because I'm bolder. The more mature I become and the more life experiences I have, the more I have to talk about. I really focused on songs being classics, songs that would last, songs that I could sing when I'm 40 and when I'm 60." - Beyonce

I might as well warn you now; your enjoyment of 4 will depend on how you rate Beyonce's ballads; The mix of musical influences is subtle and most of the tracks are dedicated to Beyonce's relationship with her husband. Beyonce's named influences for 4 include Fela Kuti [she even worked with the band from the Broadway musical, Fela! on 4], Earth, Wind & Fire, DeBarge, Lionel Richie, Teena Marie with additional influences by The Jackson 5, New Edition, Adele, Florence and the Machine, and Prince.

Beyonce has co-written every song on 4 [including the deluxe version], except for I Was Here, which was wrote by Diane Warren.

Additional song-writers include The-Dream, Tricky Stewart, Corey Jackson Carter, Frank Ocean, Babyface, J. Que, Kanye West, The-Dream, Adidja Palmer, Diplo, David Taylor and Afrojack.

Beyonce herself co-produced 4 and Individual track producers include Babyface, Consequence, Diane Warren, Kanye West, Ryan Tedder, Switch, Shea Taylor, Symbolyc One and The-Dream.

* 1+1 *

[Beyonce's favourite track and U.S. promotional single]

Beyonce expresses her endless love to Jay-Z, delivers sweeping statements about the power of their relationship and, umm, that's it. I don't think that it's a bad track, it's just a safe, well used formula. Beyonce's vocals are amazing on this though, so it is a nice album opener.

I like how the strings and Beyonce's emotive vocals combine together for a passionate delivery, but the most generous about this track I am after a month of repeated listening is to call it 'a grower'. Various reviewers have likened 1 + 1 to Halo, but this doesn't compare to Halo as far as I'm concerned.

* I Care *

This is one of my favourite tracks.

Beyonce is saying how she's in a dead-end relationship with someone and how she's trying to work on it, but her partner has clearly stopped caring for her, which is hurting her. She's saying that she still cares for him and can't walk away, despite the writing on the wall. What makes Beyonce's slower songs so powerful is that she can pack the required emotions into her voice.

I'm not too sure how to describe the music to songs; so simply put this is a slower track, with soft percussion's. It reminds me of when my parents listened to their Dina Carroll albums when I was young. Most of the album tracks use a similar, vintage soul feel to the music.

* I Miss You *

Another of my favourites.

This is simple but effective; Beyonce is admitting to missing someone, even though it means that she has to swallow her pride to let them know. Beyonce's emotive vocals carry on the heavy, somber tones nicely from the previous track.

I don't want to needlessly repeat myself, but, once again this is a slower track, with soft percussion's. Normally I think songs that sound similar shouldn't be placed next to each other, but I Care and I Miss You seem to be a continuing story and they flow nicely together.

* Best Thing I Never Had *

This is quite a simple track - although the lyrical content is strong. Beyonce tells us that she feels happy to have left someone who did not realise what a good thing he'd had until it was way too late and she had gone.

The mid-tempo pop/R&B ballad music is very radio friendly and I can hear echos of Irreplaceable and If I Were a Boy in the musical style. I think that the piano used in the intro and outro lift the song up a level.

* Party (featuring Andre 3000) *

[Samples the Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick song La Di Da Di]

Both the intro and outro to Party are performed by Kanye West, but his parts don't really add anything to the song; does anyone here know what he means by swagu? Beyonce's verses alone are OK, but nothing special. She's basically telling someone that tonight is THE night, wink wink. It's Andre's rap that gives this song it's life - it doesn't really feel like it's going anywhere, until we get to his verse.

We stick with the mid-tempo R&B music for this and, one again, the result is very radio friendly - much more so then the slower tracks [even though the slower songs have stronger lyrics]. This is bound to be on the record label's possible single list.

If you're thinking about playing this album for a younger child, I'll point out that Andre does repeatedly use the word f**k throughout his rap. He also uses n****r and there is a line that includes the gem "I make the milk 'til it drips down your knees"...

* Rather Die Young *

We're back to Beyonce gushing over how much Jay-z means to her. There's much to say here; she'd give up everything for him and she'd also rather die young then go on without him if he were no longer around.

The low tempo R&B screams 70's soul to me. This vintage feel does fit fantastically well with Beyonce's raw vocals, making an otherwise average song some spark and raising it up an level. It's middle of the road for me overall: it's above average, but it still doesn't stand out.

* Start Over *

This is my favourite song on the album.

Her relationship is stalling, but she's saying that whilst she's not ready to walk away, she doesn't want to settle for the way things have gone somewhat flat. She instead wants to rebuild things from the base up.

We're back to slow soul, with soft percussion's now. Almost all of my favourite tracks have the same musical influence to them - must be the childhood memories they bring to mind influencing me.

* Love On Top *

Jay-Z makes Beyonce's sunrise, the birds song... Seriously; whilst real love isn't perfect, it's more then worth it seems to be the message on this track. Nothing else to say, but that doesn't mean that isn't a good song, as it is.

This would fit perfectly with Dream Girls; I can envision a soul group having a lot of fun with it. The beat picks up and the saxophone in it adds a dollop of attitude to the mix.

* Countdown *

[Samples the Boyz II Men song Uhh Ahh]

The lyrics take little part of other album tracks. The overall message is similar to Love On Top; love is worth riding the waves so to speak. A line in the chorus includes "killing me softly", a shout-out to The Fugees or a coincidence? Beyonce is vocally more upbeat here then she is on the other album tracks.

The mid-tone R&B has strong reggae beats to it, which livens it up and makes it both cheerful and memorable. It seems quite summery, so could make for a nice single.

* End Of Time *

Another standout track.

Beyonce's vocals portray more confidence through to the vocals; she knows that she can give someone everything they could ever need, and it can be all theirs if they admit to wanting and needing it.

The music fuses hip hop and classic dancehall styles together and has a strong military march like drum beat running throughout it. It is similar to 'Single Ladies' in that it's nearly impossible to sit still when it's playing; it begs you to get up and dance. It's very single worthy, though the fact that it's similar to Run The World means that it probably won't be at the top of the list.

* I Was Here *

This one of two tracks that doesn't lyrically fit in with the other album tracks themes of relationships and love. Beyonce is telling use that shes achieved all that she's set out out to do and she has left her mark on the world. It sounds very final to me.

Whilst this tracks is a lyrical mismatch on 4, the music ensures that it does still flow with the
album neatly - it fuses ballady R&b with soul, which makes the song even more somber then it was already.

* Run The World (Girls) *

[Samples the Major Lazer song Pon de Floor]

A assertive female empowerment song, that travels along the same vein as Independent Women, Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It), and Diva. I do like it, but the lyrical content and aggressive vocal delivery does not fit on the album, so it doesn't flow with the other tracks and sticks out of place. No wonder it's the final track on the regular edition of the album.

The music is very similar to End Of Time; again fusing hip hop and classic dancehall styles together and again using a military drum beat, which perfectly matches the aggressive vocal delivery. It is also another get-up-and-boogie track.

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Worth buying?
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Ever since I read that Beyonce admitted that she'd handed in 72 songs to her label in preparation for the album's release and that the label bosses call 4 a "mixed musical gumbo" I'd been expecting a sequel of sorts to the B'Day album: I'd assumed that the individual tracks would be a diverse mix of genres, seemingly random in the topics selected like her second solo album had been. Plus both of the album titles are celebrations of her birthday - I took it as a sign.

When I first heard the tracks [they leaked online a month before the album's official release] I was very disappointed; there isn't a nice variety in the musical styles at all, there are a few upbeat R&B mid tempo tracks on here are soulful ballads. Many fans of Beyonce love her ballads, but I was never a huge fan of them - after a while they all start to sound the same as she's been with Jay-Z for almost a decade now and whilst it is great that they've lasted and are still deeply in love, there are only so many ways which she can tell tell us that. Isn't there?

Well 4 will either convert you into a fan of her ballads with it's superior lyrical content, or it will send you to sleep. It was quite risky for someone who is known for her jelly shaking pop/dance numbers and is a love it or hate it album. To fully appreciate 4 you need to listen to the lyrics - this album's biggest strength is in the song writing, as there are no pop/dance numbers on here. I think that the lack of lighter, fun get-up-and-boogie tracks may result in lower then average sales, will be a crying shame as Beyonce's emotive vocals and ever-growing song writing skills are displayed to their best advantage on 4.

Overall: I think that the lyrical content of 4 passes the material passes the level of that on her I Am... Sasha Fierce album. But B'day still nudges ahead for me as my favourite album from her, simply because there is more variation in musical styles.

This is also a solid album for those who are fans of the soundtracks for Dream Girls, Cadillac Records and The Fighting Temptations, and/or the Destiny's Child original line-up.

I highly recommend that you buy the deluxe version [see below], as that is the best value for money and offers more in the way of variety for both lyrical content and music style. I seriously don't know why Beyonce bothers releasing regular and deluxe editions; fans of her music are clearly going to pick the deluxe edition as it has more to offer considering that the track listing for the regular edition is on the thin side. The price for the bigger and better deluxe edition is literally only a few pounds extra, so it's not like casual fans will be making a big saving by buying the bare bones version. Surely just having different cover art isn't enough incentive to own two albums that contain the same regular tracks?

Having said that and having bought the deluxe edition now, I'm almost certain that she'll release a new 'special' or 'platinum' album edition in the not-to-distant future, as she has done with her last two albums.

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Track Listing for additional versions
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The deluxe edition of 4 contains a bonus disc which has three exclusive new songs and three remixes;

* Lay Up Under Me *

Sort of similar to her lines in Party, this is about, erm, happy time and how someone is going to get some tonight.

This follows Love On Top musically; mid-tone R&B/soul, which, one again, features a saxophone. It's fun and happy, a bit of a break from the more somber tracks. It's another middle of the road track for me, above average, but it still doesn't stand out.

* Schoolin Life *

My favourite from the bonus disc.

This as commercial as 4 gets. Beyonce announces that she is a freak and is "great at writing physical love letters", and, erm other stuff. I'm just going to go ahead and assume this is another sex song. Very Prince.

Musically it follows Run The World; fusing classic dancehall and hip-hop together. It does have more of a vintage 80s feel to it than Run The World and should have been a regular album track, as it would have made a solid single.

* Dance For You *

Well, the title says it all really. It's going down tonight, so don't be telling anybody. I wonder why Jay-Z never smiles? Beyonce at her most sultry, another track which should have made the regular album edition.

This is another mid-tone R&B track. For some reason it reminds me of Madonna's Like A Prayer, it must be the subtle synths that build up throughout the song.

* Run The World (Girls) Kaskade Club Remix *
* Run The World (Girls) Redtop Club Remix *
* Run The World (Girls) Jochen Simms Club Remix *

The first remix is the shortest, coming in at just over five minutes. The final two remixes are just over six minutes long.

There's not much to say for these really; the strong dance overtones just don't suit the song and I've listened to them once and don't see myself replaying them again in the near future.

** The bonus disc contains an exclusive edit of the music video for Run the World (Girls), but Norton anti-virus won't let me play it **

Japanese bonus track;


I've not heard this track yet, but I'm sure someone will post it up on YouTube over the coming days.

4 is released on Monday, but I pre-ordered on Amazon using free shipping. When you use free shipping they'll sometimes post pre-orders a little early, so you get the things the same day as people who use first class, in this case my postal service was on the ball, hence me getting the album early.

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