Album review: Beyonce's '4'
Beyoncé Knowles isn’t worried chasing fads, though she’s well aware of them. Over the years, she’s learned how to harness them so effortlessly that they seem like her ideas. Take the standout track on her new album, “4,” “I Miss You,” a slow-burn jam of desire co-written by Odd Future-affiliated crooner Frank Ocean. In its beginning moments, the song draws on the sparse wave of recent music by British band the xx by using silence as a weapon, a notion that extends across the 12-song album.
At its best, “4” pushes at the edges of pop, but unlike on her best songs, “Crazy in Love” and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” she does this more with seduction than sauciness. The first four tracks are ballads, each of a different variety, and each striking in its own way. “Best Thing I Never Had” sends drum rolls through an echo chamber in a defiant track destined to offer solace in heartbroken bedrooms around the world. Even “Party,” co-written by Kanye West and featuring Andre 3000 of Outkast, is a slow-paced number that sounds like a half-speed remix of a Human League song.
The second half of the record, however, picks up, and upends the silent contemplation with the kind of dance floor fury the Queen of R&B does best. Taken together, “4” is a surprising, confident turn, even if the surprises are of a subtler variety.
— Randall Roberts