is the fourth solo studio album from Beyoncé. The album was recorded over a year between the spring of 2010 and the spring of 2011, while Beyoncé took time away from the spotlight. She engaged in what she describes as simple things, including listening to every kind of music she truly enjoys. The title signifies not only the artist’s fourth solo offering and the day of her birth but it is also a personal gift to her fans who took to their social media pages urging her to name the album for her special number.
The number 4 means something to Beyoncé: it's the date of her birth, the date of her wedding; there are even four key changes in the final, teetering chorus of Love on Top to ram the point home. That the title was apparently crowd sourced from fans attuned to Beyoncé’s yen for numerology smacks of post-justification, but one fact pokes through – 4 is definitely her fourth album.
Following schizo double I Am... Sasha Fierce, Beyoncé took a year off but has come back brighter. Dozens of songs emerged from the original 4 sessions and the promo circuit’s been leapt on with a vengeance, culminating – at least over here – in the intriguing Glastonbury headline slot (yet to wow us as we go to press). With 4’s best bold tunes, Beyoncé has spruced up an already handsome catalogue. She's got the armoury to trump husband Jay-Z’s perception-altering Pilton turn.
Run the World (Girls) we know, twice over, in Major Lazer’s Pon de Floor and in its recent official and unofficial leaks. Strangely, it's tacked on like a bonus after the natural big finish of the Diane Warren-penned I Was Here, when it would've nestled comfortably alongside the opulent M.I.A.-style cacophony of Countdown or End of Time's startling vision of Animal Collective covering Lionel Richie's All Night Long. No matter – the rest of 4 tips towards the powerhouse balladry that caressed her previous album.
And these are exemplars of the form, I Care in particular emoting the house down over a sustained Purple Rain chord. Its near-equals 1+1 and I Miss You tug heartstrings too, the former over magnificent guitar bombast; the latter – a contribution from Odd Future's misfit soulman Frank Ocean – over the kind of subtle tension achieved by Alicia Keys' Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart. 1+1 offers a pointer to Best Thing I Never Had where Beyoncé really gets her soft rock on, matching Bon Iver's Beth/Rest in summoning up Bruce Hornsby and the Range. Now there's an odd future.
Less successful are Kanye West and Andre 3000's interruptions ("You got the swag sauce / You drip the swagu," leers Kanye – oh dear) on Party's slick 80s soul, while the overdone glitz of Rather Die Young drags. The rest of 4, though, sparks. Beyoncé slips from flirty to fragile to fabulous, and is in terrific voice throughout, reminding us that when she opens up there's no-one else in the game.
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