Despite the current reign of Lady Gaga, for the last 10 years, pop music has been overshadowed by one name and one incredibly buoyant booty. Now with four solo albums to her credit, Beyonce has managed to maintain her position as the chart-topping diva of pop by making not only quality material, but material that is musically diverse. Since her solo debut in 2003, Beyonce has consistently integrated a variety of musical genres ranging from her more slowjam, Etta James sound to Europop and electronic influences. Now, Beyonce certainly isn’t the most innovative of artists. She just makes good pop music. But, with her latest release, 4, even her usual pop hits are largely absent with nothing of interest to compensate.
4 kicks off with classic Beyonce Knowles. Like her heartfelt ballad “Halo,” the soulful “1+1” is a pleasant return to Knowles’ earlier R&B origins. Only, unlike “Halo” which highlights the purity of Knowles’ commanding voice, “1+1” quickly dissolves into the kind of over-produced, schmaltzy sap that makes Mariah Carey seem subtle. Beyonce’s beautiful voice is her trademark, but it’s sadly drowned out here, leaving nothing but saccharine-coated cries of “make love to me” and overwrought orchestration.
For much of 4, Beyonce is stuck. Vocally, she is limited by a series of rehashed ballads and overly ornate instrumentation. Musically, she moves between the dull, melodrama of R&B tracks like “1+1” or “Love on Top” and dance tracks like “Countdown” that suffer from a case of chronic monotony. The only potential hit is the standalone track “Party” which finds success only in its featuring of Andre 3000’s eccentric raps and Kanye West’s dynamic production. Beyonce is near absent for most of the track. Sadly, with 4, it seems she’s finally been kicked out of the party.