Beyoncé, 4, June 24th, Columbia, Score: 79
On her fourth solo album, the reigning chart goddess and former Destiny’s Child member lets you know that things are a-ok between her and music mogul/rapper husband Jay-Z. Though, as much as the album wallows in marital bliss, there is also the independent strength and assurance of a woman who knows what she has is what she really wants, and why it matters. You believe her assertion to a former almost lover that it “sucks to be you right now” in “Best Thing I Never Had”. 4 is an album of constant comfort, maturity, and ease, even as it hops from style to style. It’s Beyoncé’s reflection on the journey—the sexiness of monogamy and a tribute to well-earned intimacy through commitment.
The first single “Run the World (Girls)” sported an aesthetically fantastic concept video but still made a relatively small splash on the airwaves. I blame the pasted-on Diplo beat. ”End of Time” revs up the energy to anthemic better, and so does “Countdown”. The latter just narrowly misses corny on its way to a clever concept, but it helps that the song is catchy as hell and propulsive like the drumline of the best high school marching band you ever heard. Beyoncé makes it work.
“1 + 1”, to be frank, is some wonderful baby-making music. ”Cause baby we ain’t got nothing without love / Darling you got enough for the both of us / So come on baby, make love to me” she asserts. The rest of the album dips into 80s/early 90s radio-ready R&B, and the comfort of sinking down into the sofa next to your partner after a long-ass workday. The slow-burn of “Party” (with welcome turns by Kanye West and Andre 3000) and the Frank Ocean-penned “I Miss You” are enough to make this album a must-listen, but the real standout is the fun, swinging 80s-lite-funk of “Love on Top”.
The only crucial sidestep is ”I Was Here”. It’s all a bit too heavy-handed with the schmaltz, but even still has a fantastic and measured vocal performance.
It’s tempting to say that there’s a utilitarian showmanship to it all, but 4 gives us all the glimpses of who she really is that we need, or deserve. Beyoncé is a constantly outward-looking artist, aware of a demarcation she needs between public and private. She’s found a way to celebrate the private in public in a way that is relatable while not necessarily soul-bearing.