[First published in Cliché Magazine on 6.16.2011]
If you’re in midst of a heartbreak, you’re in luck. Leaked weeks before its scheduled June 28 release, Beyoncé’s latest album, 4, is chock-full of ballads devoted to soulful passion that chronicles the pining, sentimental vacillation, and romantic anguish of a breakup.
The album opens with a three-song stretch of nostalgia. She starts with “1+1,” which is a tear-stained, fervent love proclamation that builds layers of tender guitar instrumentation upon layers of the singer’s crescendoing vocals, culminating in a weeping guitar solo.
“I Care” is an angry refrain of “Well I care / I know you don’t care too much, but I still care”; Beyoncé’s signature woman-scorned singing punches through, most powerfully at the second chorus leading up to the bridge. “I Miss You” settles into the hazy aftermath of separation, a lush wash of crooning over minimalistic beats, followed by her empowering breakup anthem, “Best Thing I Never Had”. A few songs down, Beyoncé changes her mind, in a plea to “Start Over,” and then finally, on track 11, she comes to terms with the process in the emotional “I Was Here,” a final curtain call of a song.
Yes, this one is an emotional ride.
But the pop diva also took pains to include songs that kick the tempo and mood up in the second half of the album. There’s the swingy groove of “Party” and “Love on Top” that recalls the synth-saturated ‘80s, and the peak of Whitney Houston’s career, respectively. “Countdown” and “End of Time” are more along the lines of her previous beat-heavy repertoire, drawing from her alter ego, Sasha Fierce and even from her days in Destiny’s Child.
Overall, 4 is Beyoncé’s most mature vibrant album yet. It is dramatic, bittersweet, and humming with energy – even in the slower ballads, where a little Fierce attitude is much appreciated, for the heart can only handle so much hurt. Vocally, she’s never been stronger: she does gentle and longing, or dripping with haughty acrimony, all with a growly bite. Her previous album, I am…Sasha Fierce, was split-personality in effort and presentation. 4 seamlessly integrates both alter egos in all songs.