With a body of work that still feels mostly fresh today, it’s easy to forget that Beyoncé has been around for almost 15 years, giving us hits after hits, with something for everyone. Seriously now, is anyone out there that has never liked at least a bit of her? Probably not. With that said, it would also be easy to see her 4th solo album as another step to consolidate her status as the flawless diva she is meant to be, now that her talents have been widely recognized for years. But with a first single Run The World (Girls) failing to ignite the charts, her latest moves have been causing conflicting reactions more than anything else. Our theory? It’s always hard to step up your game and move somewhere else, when your followers are not used to it… and that’s exactly what Beyoncé is doing in here.
Anyone expecting immediate hits and big anthemic numbers will be disappointed, because her aim now is something else. In fact, she stated in a recent interview that Sasha Fierce was dead, so expect no more masks: this is Beyoncé, full-stop. And that’s why 4 seems, above all, a very personal and emotional project, something coming more from her heart than ever before.
In I Miss You, for example, she sings over a very minimal electronic beat but touches a wide range of emotions, creating what is probably one of her most moving (and also simplest) performances ever. The same could be said about 1+1 (which includes an over-the-top guitar solo that is absolutely fantastic), Best Thing I Never Had (“Irreplaceable part 2” wouldn’t be out of place as an alternative title) and much of the first half of 4, where the tempo is mostly slower, with gorgeous ballads that are among the most subtle things she ever did.
As with her previous album, 4 is also organized in a conceptual form, where this time she seems to slowly open herself up to the world as the record progresses. That’s why, halfway through, the tempo starts going up, in songs like Party (a node to vintage harmonies featuring Andre 3000 and Kanye West), Love On Top (an exercise in classic funk), Countdown (a modern reggaeton number) or the tribal drums of End Of Time.
After another ballad (I Was Here) that interrupts the crescendo with goosebumps-inducing keyboards and strings, we finally get to the last song, the aforementioned Run The World (Girls). And it’s here that this track finally makes full sense. She truly found her place. She runs the world, at least her own, and she’s never been happier and more confident. Let’s call it her maturity album, then. (8,5/10)