A 4-dimensional triumph
Rating: 4 / 5
Celina Murphy, 21 Jun 2011
Until the day we learn that Beyoncé is actually a very sophisticated, very sexy piece of humanoid robotics, we can categorically spout that the unstoppable Ms. Knowles is a modern pillar of pop stardom. The 16 Grammys and 75 million records are certainly important, but no number speaks louder than 15 years on top, without so much as a bum note or a misplaced pinky finger along the way.
4 sees Lady-Z cast her musical net a little wider than before and pushing her seemingly limitless mezzo-soprano to chilling new heights. Few would dispute that she has the fiercest pipes in the business, but her vocals are so consistently pristine, it’s sometimes possible to forget they’re there at all. If this is a conundrum that team Beyoncé are aware of, they’ve tackled it beautifully with ‘1 + 1’, a hard-hitting, Whitney-sized ballad that’s as close as the diamond-encrusted diva has come to raw intensity.
Surprisingly, it’s this tune, rather than the feral first single ‘(Girls) Run The World’, that best sums up B’s fourth album. Apart from the aforementioned, there’s not a colossal floor filler in the bunch – instead she’s opted for genre-bending ballads (marching drums, videogame bleeps and rawk guitar abound) and glimmering throwback mid-tempo numbers, mostly centered around less-than-iconic slick vibrations of the ‘70s and ‘90s.
The Kanye West-produced ‘Party’, featuring an on-form André 3000, falls somewhere between a lost ‘70s electro funk jam and the deliciously glossy fare on her debut Dangerously In Love. ‘Love On Top’ is a triumphant disco anthem for the twenty-tens, and ‘Countdown’ makes truly brilliant use of Boys ll Men’s ‘Uuh Ahh’ (the lyrical trickery is simply too clever to recount on paper).
Elsewhere, cries of “Boy don’t even try to touch this” sit happily among lines like “Grind up on it girl, show him how you ride it” but then, B’s version of female empowerment has always been double-faceted and this debate could fill a review on its own (that review would be titled, ‘How am I supposed to run the world when my man needs his dang slippers?’)
Simply put, if Gaga is our Bowie, Rihanna is our Janet and Bieber is our Osmond, Beyoncé is a glittering 30th anniversary repackaging of Diana Ross. Like Ross, she’s not much of a songwriter, but this leaves her with plenty of time to perfect her truly electric vocal performances.
So immense is Beyoncé’s talent that she couldn’t create a bad album if she tried, but nothing would be simpler than to make a string of mediocre ones (even the divine Miss Ross did that). For delivering pretty much the opposite of what it promised and proving that a ballad doesn’t have to come with a side of motion sickness tablets, 4 is a triumphant bar-raiser, and the charts are dang lucky to have it.