It’s always dangerous when an artist has nothing left to prove.
But after winning 16 Grammy Awards, selling 75 million records worldwide, and inspiring an entire generation of female (and male) artists with her intoxicating brand of 70’s soul-meets-Hip Hop Pop, Beyonce has every right not to.
So what is initially so stunning about 4 is that it does not reflect an artist resting on her laurels. Beyonce has made the ballsy choice to push forward, to reach higher. It may not result in the number one hits and platinum plaques she (still) deserves, but she’s got enough of those.
4 is what happens when a great artist has nothing left to prove. And it is a stunning album.
While every other female pop vocalist is working overtime to sound glamorously lazy and affect a Rihanna-like, disinterested drawl with their vocals, Knowles is singing her ass off all over 4. Beyonce has always made up for a decidedly limited vocal range with passion, precision, and the sheer force of her indomitable personality. But she makes this shit look easy on 4; these are soulful, rollicking, and relentlessly charismatic performances that could only be turned in by an artist that is 100% confident and comfortable in her own skin.
In other words, homegirl is officially a (real) Diva.
4 is a mature, largely low-key affair, and the results are consistently thrilling. Produced by The-Dream, opening track “1 + 1” is a near-perfect exercise in slow-burning, warmly-romantic R&B, building effortlessly to a stunning climax of electric guitar and lush strings. It is a poignant and flawless opening to an unexpectedly adventurous album.
Musically, 4 completely ignores the euro-house-dance-pop sound that has essentially defined the past two years at pop radio. Drawing largely from 80’s R&B, the synthesizers employed on tracks like “Love On Top” and the Andre 300-assisted (and Kanye West-produced) “Party” caress rather than bludgeon. And some Fela Kuti-inspired Afrobeat even finds its way into the proceedings on the celebratory “End Of Time.” Meanwhile, “Countdown” features insistent horns and funky percussion that erupt into a majestic, irresistible chorus. Even the decidedly awkward first single “Run The World (Girls)” falls into place perfectly as an epic and triumphant album closer.
Yeah, I know; there’s always something exciting about a precocious young artist’s imperfect yet charming take on pop music.
But if you’re looking for that kind of experience, you should look elsewhere.
Because 4 is an album only a veteran can make. And for the grown and sexy listener, no one’s doing it better than Beyonce. Period.