Albums You Must Own Number 7 – 4 by Beyoncé
When Beyoncé released ‘4’ she was praised for her musical direction and sound hitting many critics best of the year lists. However some were divided whether the album would stand the test of time, this was a theory that got diminished when Rolling Stones named it one of the best female albums ever made.
The album starter ‘1+1’ is a powerful mid tempo ballad with a memorable guitar riff running throughout. Beyonce‘s voice on the track sound very improvised but soft and gentle that it shows she’s after more than just a quick romance. Confessing her love about a certain person is the start of this overwhelming journey from track 1-12. The piano, guitars and live drum kits are very minimalistic but add a finer touch than having them blasting out crazily and add subtle hints of love and power. Leaving the music to do the talking the track slowly fades away again keeping its subtle hints.
The next song, titled ‘I Care’, is one of the best on the album. The first time we here pads on the album. They get stronger along with Beyoncé as she reaches the chorus. The drums are cleverly panned and keep their intimidation on lock as the track progresses. The song is very dark and even when it opened up during choruses, Beyoncé struts a diva-like “la la la la la la” to show her best to the guy she sings it to. What makes the song a highlight is that she manages to follow an electric guitar to its highest notes, elevating her vocals higher than Everest. It’s a brilliant Beyoncé track which shows her evolution throughout all her material.
The third song was penned by Frank Ocean and isn’t far from much of Ocean‘s work. It’s deep basses, complimenting pads and mysterious echo never gets tiring and is just as spine tingling no matter what listen you’re on. Beyoncé whispers her dilemma and you can hear different studio takes which make up the whole vocal arrangement. A very clever trick , that makes it more intimate and takes you to a whole new planet of confession for just under 3 minutes. Slow paced but still edgy it’s a masterpiece and has so much raw emotion hidden under the surface that it makes Beyonce‘s tone even more vulnerable.
We get a more stronger side to Beyoncé on the following track. ‘Best Thing I Never Had’ has booming drums and a piano line made strict which compliments the message of the song. On the track Beyoncé doesn’t give a F— and rips her ex flame to pieces but doesn’t dent the track with this attitude. Beyoncé‘s natural confidence starts to shine, contrastingly different to the previous track, her confidence makes it one that only Beyoncé could sing. Like ‘Sweet Dreams of Sasha Fierce’ it is a song with a message that is still easily something to dance to.
We get a Kanye West and Andre 3000 assisted beat on ‘Party’. The fifth track moves back to mid tempo after the bluntness of ‘Best Thing I Never Had’. More relaxed and chilled out, it definitely captures a retro party atmosphere and could easily be seen on many part playlists in the future. Rich electronic bass and synths add substance to the song and keep with the flow of the song. Andre 3000 keeps the theme of the song and executes his rap perfectly; ending where it began maybe this party is the one that never really ended.
Then we get a powerful blast from drums and trumpets in ‘Rather Die Young’. More uptempo than the last piece Beyoncé‘s vocals go to even more impressive higher heights. Several voices are layered into the the song as the backing to the singers vocals and remind much of ‘Dark Fantasy’ with the choir. In contrast it shows that no matter what style Beyoncé does she still has a natural empowering aura about her; whether she goes all out, keeps it chilled or mixed them both like ‘Rather Die Young’.
Halfway through we get an interestingly titled song – ‘Start Over’. Starting the next chapter in the narrators life, Beyoncé sings for redemption and hope. Electronic sounds and Beyoncé make this song what it is. A sense of mystery, hope, no mercy but vulnerability is the perfect blend and makes it an interesting an smooth track.
R&B sensation ‘Love On Top’ is the beginning of the new start. More positive, jumpy and lighter than most of the first half, it’s modern R&B bliss. You can hear older influences being more modernised in the track as it still follows a regular rhythm but made modern from how jumpy the drums are. Still as convincing as ever, cleverly Beyoncé uses her vocal ability to back a declaration of love very powerfully.
‘Countdown’ is the highlight of ‘4’. The best track of them all. Starting off with a solo and then charged into a crazily jam packed track. Taking off with loud horns and synths, with a deep bass hit every now and then we get into the exciting countdown. Once hitting the countdown, she cleverly uses a sample and then adds the Beyoncé stamp. The verse is uptempo and exhilarating as Beyoncé uses modern synths in a new different way. Showcasing her rapping skills in between, she adds more to the already packed anthem, and to top it off she knows how to have a good crack at rap. Explosions of hi-hats, trumpets and synths every now and then keeps you enticed into whats going on. Not backing down, Beyoncé is at her most confident and powerful and shows all her competitors why she means business. To me Beyoncé reveals another side to herself, a very truthful side as she references hometown Houston but just with a hint of ghetto. The whole song is one song that will last the test of time.
‘End Of Time’ follows ‘Countdown’ but Beyoncé steps down a notch and goes back to narrator mode. Nevertheless, she never loses her charm and passion. It starts with a very big hype-building intro and is a great way to follow Countdown. Caribbean pans and live bass adds a live attack on the beat. Beyoncé executes it well with a mix of power singing and rapping her confidence is not gone. Another great uptempo track that’s something fresh and not just the general dance track like the rest if the charts.
After a burst of tempo, we get a breather – for now. ‘I Was Here’ is very string heavy, but is more dependent on Beyoncé to make it the best she can. The song is generally very good with its excellent production. But at 2:04 Beyoncé sings for her life, giving us that powerful boombox of hers for one last time. It’s the true Beyoncé singing about something very true to her and is the first time of the album she does not talk about love or to a specific person.
The grand finale then kicks in, ‘Run The World (Girls)’ is all about power and strength – something she has been playing with throughout the journey. Over a Major Lazer beat she adds vocals to Pon De Floor to stamp her seal of approval on it. Of course an album without female empowerment isn’t a Beyoncé album, so this was always going to be expected. A very military march drum beat with more fast and sharp Beyoncé is a great way to leave the album on a high.
Telling a story within a collection of mini 4 minute stories is a hard feat to accomplish but Beyoncé does it. Her style matures in this album as she sticks to her R&B roots but adds her own spin and sticks to it. No song on the album sounds off or like it doesn’t fit it, it all features the same sound but each track has been experimented with to make them all sound different at the same time.
Review by Bally Athwal