Monday, July 11, 2011

4 [Deluxe Edition]

Beyonce has always seemed like a bit of a dark horse to me when it came to being a serious contender in the pop music scene. A lot of her music is generic r&b/pop [i mean that in a nice way], but there's also been a slow growing need to go against the grain a little throughout her career.
On her first album, 'Dangerously In Love', it was a fairly standard affair as far as music production goes. R&b ballads and urban dance floor fillers were pretty much what the album was full of. Her second album, 'B'Day', showed a bit more musical experimentation, with a more old skool urban influence on the record, and a more organic use of instrumentation on the production of the music. Her 3rd album, 'I Am...Sasha Fierce', was an even bigger leap forward as far as bringing in different musical styles was concerned. Between more electronic urban beats and more simple guitar driven ballads, it was obvious Beyonce's palette of influences were broader than we were led to believe based on her earlier work.

Her 4th album, '4', is certainly her most interesting album to date. Not so much because i think it's her best, it's not [i give that title to her last album, 'Sasha']. But '4' marks an important time in her career, and that is reflected in the music on the album. This is the first record Beyonce has done without the guidance of her father, who has been her manager since her Destiny's Child days. With Beyonce asserting herself in her own career, comes a new found confidence and freedom to branch herself out even further as an artist.
After the huge success of 'Sasha', you'd think '4' would have been an obvious attempt to cash in on the success of that album and offer more of them same. To my surprise however, Beyonce has chosen to put together a much more sombre body of work this time around. Instead of jumping on the dance bandwagon that's filling mainstream radio right now, Beyonce has decided to go completely in the opposite direction and has created more of an old skool 90's r&b record with very little club bangers to go nuts over. In many ways it pays off, and in other ways it kinda fails.

The majority of the album is well produced. The ballads are nicely done for the most part. 'I Miss You' sounds like something Phil Collins could have sung back in the day, '1+1' takes obvious notes from Prince and features a gorgeous electric guitar solo and 'Dance For You' could easily fit on any sexy early 90's r&b slow jams album.
The more dance heavy tracks offer some nice moments too. 'End of Time' uses infectious drum beats, 'Countdown' has a catchy big band sound, and my favourite off the album, 'Run The World', features a hot tribal beat and aggressive vocals. I know a lot of people dislike that song, but i think it's fantastic, i love the 'Diplo' inspired production on the track. If 'M.I.A' did more commercial music, it would sound something like that.

Credit has to be given to Beyonce for not churning out an album that fits into the mold of what is popular right now. Don't get me wrong, most of the songs on '4' don't necessarily tread new ground. We've heard Beyonce do r&b music before, this isn't surprising to anyone. However, it's not a genre that's really selling right now though, especially with an album like '4' which consists of mostly slower tracks.
As a lead single, 'Run The World', wasn't an ideal choice either. The genre it borrows from is way too particular, and not something mainstream listeners are into. As much as i love it, i can see why so many people hated it.
Beyonce has my respect for doing an album she truly wanted to make, regardless of how unexpected it may be. She seems to be more focused on growing as an artist, rather than JUST selling records. It's refreshing to see after her last massive album.

Technically, there isn't anything really wrong with '4', however, it does have a few bumps along the way.
As nice as most of the songs are, the album can feel a bit dull as an overall listen. A couple more upbeat or heavier tracks wouldn't have hurt, especially ones along the lines of 'Run The World'. There's a bit of "meat" missing from the album. It all plods along a bit TOO comfortably at times, and i find that i really need to be in the right mood to listen to the album in full.
Also, the track listing order is a fucking mess. '1+1' is an awful way to start the record, it's just way too slow and feels more like a closing track than an opening one. Following that sort of slow opener with another 2 ballads really doesn't set up the album well. It's just too "sleepy". I shuffled around my track listing on my iTunes and found the album flows a lot better with the mid-tempo tracks and ballads mixed around more. The official track listing feels like i've started the album half way through the play list when i play track 1. It's just odd and it really kills the flow.

'4' is a decent album. It has a couple strong moments, and even though the rest of the album is nice enough, i don't feel like it reaches any truly great heights for me. There could have been a bit more of an energy in the music to liven it up a more, and some of the songs are a bit bland production wise. If i'm not in the mood for the album, it can be boring. I find that it works more when i listen to tracks individually than as a complete record. There's SOMETHING missing, it feels like it needs a bit of a "fun" injection. As a ballad heavy record though, it's enjoyable enough if you like that sort of thing.

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