After an announcement made on USA Today on January 28, 2010, Beyoncé took a year off from her hectic lifestyle of music performance and production. She took the year to be a part of the audience for once and let life inspire her. For the first time, Beyoncé split from her father as her manager and worked on a new album without his guidance. She returned on June 24, 2011, with her fourth album, 4.
Beyoncé created this album out of a “labor of love,” a commendable premise, rather than a desire for single and radio hits. She wanted to create music that would be different, hoping that a fusion of genres would be refreshing to her audience. She favored live instruments over digitized sounds, hoping to bring emotion and soul back to the music industry.
Beyoncé succeeded in creating music that was different from the current chart-toppers, and we can certainly hear her emotion. Her vocal talent is as good, if not better, as it has always been. Her sound is raw.
However, her sound is also, well, boring (at least at first). The album opens up with “1+1,” probably one of Beyoncé‘s best ballads ever produced, a promising start. However, this track is followed by another ballad, “I Care”, and then another one, “I Miss You.” “1+1″ marked the beginning of an onslaught of mid-paced ballads with melodies that are easily forgotten (and skipped, when going through the album a second time). The name of the fifth track, “Party,” promises a change-of-pace, but fails to deliver. For those this listening by the eighth track, Beyoncé brings us “Love on Top,” a mid-80′s pop tribute.
Suddenly, there’s a breakthrough. “Love on Top” is followed by “Countdown,” an exciting piece with clever lyrics, backed by a marching band funk. “End of Time” keeps up the tempo, and demonstrates Beyoncé’s inspiration by Fela Kuti. Thanks to those two fun tunes, we get through the last ballad that follows, “I Was Here,” without much complaint. 4 closes with “Run the World (Girls),” the album’s lead single, a fresh and fun empowerment anthem for women. (The deluxe edition sold exclusively at Target includes three additional original songs and a handful of “Run the World (Girls)” remixes.)
This album is a bit of a mess for fans who like the Beyoncé that brought them singles such as “Crazy in Love” and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” What happened to the Beyoncé of “Diva” or “Freakum Dress”? Well, didn’t you hear? Beyoncé made the announcement herself: Sasha Fierce is dead; Beyoncé has grown up, whether you like it or not.