Three years after she dropped her last album, Beyonce Knowles is back to run the music world. But her ammunition isn’t quite as strong this time.
Beyoncé’s fiery return to mainstream pop music this year has been hard to ignore. From her performance during Oprah’s farewell blowout to her American Idol finale showstoppers, the Houston native seems quite opposed to the art of subtlety. Instead, she’s everywhere, speaking and singing yet again for all the single ladies, girls, Sasha Fierces and what-have-yous who are crazy in love, dangerously in love or still trying to get over a man who did them wrong.
Her fourth solo album, 4 (very clever, Mrs. Jay-Z), does little to back up her run-the-world mentality though. None of the songs seem capable of taking off as well as her 2008 track “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It),” a song that arguably defines Beyoncé’s career.
In discussing what went into the making of this album, the superstar has repeatedly said she took a break from the spotlight and made herself an audience member, attending numerous concerts and performances, all the while discovering new sounds and elements to add to her own music. In a way, this is Beyoncé trying to redefine her sound.
But the result is a mix of too many sounds that seem to boil down to a mellow type of R&B album that sounds like a product of the 1990s scene, when groups like En Vogue and Boys II Men were at their peak. On tracks like “I Miss You” and “Love On Top,” Beyoncé is singing to high-’90s heaven, with smooth, seductive jazz beats to back her up.
To accompany her R&B devotion, she rasps, screeches and screams through a handful of ballads, especially “1+1” — one of the two songs she performed on Idol. The song was set to be released as the second single off the album, but “Best Thing I Never Had” was chosen instead, and reasonably so.
Beyoncé treads the line between “good” and “bad” singing with songs like “1+1.” She sings, If I ain’t got something I don’t give a damn / ’Cause I’ve got it with you. The line starts out beautifully melodic, but when she gets to you, someone is apparently pulling her hair to get her to sing at an awkwardly high pitch. The song is difficult to sit through, and its lack of a chorus will not make it work if she releases it as a single. The screeches also provoke the question, “Why is Beyoncé so angry?”
But among these mediocre recordings lies the track “Party,” featuring the elusive André 3000 of Outkast, and a short talk-rap intro and outro from Kanye West. The track was leaked early (along with the entire album), and “Party” was a highly anticipated ordeal.
Too bad the party is lame.
The tempo is too slow for the names behind the song, and what could have been the summer song to end all songs turns into another forgettable ode to how much Beyoncé loves some guy. Yes, Jay-Z, she’s looking at you.
The best attempt to convey the supposed array of influences she used to make the album comes with the songs “Countdown” and “Run the World (Girls).” On “Countdown” she uses jazz sounds reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s, infused with reggae, hip-hop and soul. It’s something uplifting and fun, but buried way too late in the tracklisting.
“Run the World (Girls)” makes sense as the first song off the album. The African drum beats and haughty attitude are familiarly Beyoncé-esque.
The best song on the album, and the second single, is “Best Thing I Never Had.” She sings that she’s through with you and it sucks to be you right now, refreshing and real words from a lady who dresses up many of her song lyrics far too often. When she’s at this type of genuine point in her art, Beyoncé is most vulnerable and enjoyable.
In total, Beyoncé offers 12 new tracks, but the singer reportedly recorded 72 songs between 2008 and 2011 and submitted them all to her record company, Columbia Records. To think that these were the best bunch out of 72 is quite a letdown. Still, she’ll be running the world for years to come, even with subpar music to back her up.