When you’re as big a star as Beyoncé Knowles, you don’t need a gimmick to sell a record. Knowles shot to fame in the late 90s fronting Destiny’s Child, one of the world’s all-time bestselling girl groups, and continued on a solo career in 2003, releasing countless hit singles. Her recent hit “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” from her third solo album I Am… Sasha Fierce, helped gain the singer six Grammys at the 52nd Grammy Awards. She also broke the record for most Grammy Awards won by a female artist in one night.
With the release of her fourth studio album, 4, 29-year-old Knowles definitely is set to face high expectations on some level after cutting professional ties with father and manager Matthew Knowles, but her hugely successful career can definitely make a failure seem at least remotely successful. Luckily, 4 is a great album despite some strong critical rejection.
Don’t let the thumping dance floor track “Run the World (Girls)” fool you—4 is very different, packed with more ballads and slower beats than expected. Instead of opening with a dance track, Knowles opts for the love song “1+1,” which features an amazing vocal performance and a climactic electric guitar solo to introduce the powerful feel of the album. “I Care” follows with similar emotion over stronger beats as Knowles sings of a lover’s lack of caring.
Knowles reverts back to a down-tempo R&B beat on the ballad “I Miss You.” While the track doesn’t have any sort of build to it, the message of love is short and sweet. Knowles then jumps into the second single, “Best Thing I Never Had,” a strong track about overcoming the past by realizing that sometimes it’s best that a relationship never happened. “Thank God you blew it; thank God I dodged a bullet,” she belts, concluding with, “I bet it sucks to be you right now.”
“Party” will appeal to fans of Beyoncé’s more urban-sounding tracks. Featuring cameos by Kanye West and André 3000, the mid-tempo hip-hop track is single-worthy, but it also feels like a cheap addition to the album and doesn’t seem to fit the flow well. Knowles then jumps right back into the ballads with “Rather Die Young.” While her vocals are somewhat aggressive, the strength of her voice over the beats definitely makes for a powerful track. Similarly powerful is “Start Over,” a song about insisting on fixing a relationship rather than letting it die.
Knowles puts an old-school feel on “Love on Top,” complete with somewhat cheesy synthesizers. The track is somewhat reminiscent of an early Michael Jackson ballad, and the sweet-sounding horns help make the song a major standout track.
Both “Countdown” and “End of Time” feature heavy drums and punchy horns as Beyoncé continues to belt her way over the upbeat music. Before concluding the album with more punchy beats, however, Knowles throws a small curveball with the Dianne Warren penned ballad “I Was Here,” which Warren calls a “career-defining” track. The ballad is strong for sure, as Beyoncé proclaims that she just wants everyone to know that she’s done her best to leave her mark.
It’s no wonder that Knowles saves “Run the World (Girls)” for last—the track is not nearly as strong as the rest of the album, maybe because it relies too heavily on a sample of Major Lazer’s “Pon De Floor” and isn’t anywhere near original. Still, as the album’s first single, it’s obvious that the track has major dance floor chemistry, probably because the beat is all too familiar.
Overall, the ballads outshine the heavy tracks on 4. Knowles has proven time and again that she has an amazing voice and range, and she undoubtedly continues to release high-quality music—even if her choice of a lead single wasn’t necessarily reflective of the rest of the album. 4 ultimately will hold its place just fine among the singer’s many achievements when listeners tap into the emotion and force behind the Beyoncé’s gem of an album.
This article was originally published on AllMediaNY.com