Can a deeply personal album resonate with the masses?
One day, history will look back at Beyonce’s “4,” out June 28, and view it in much more favorable light than it’s going to get now. In some ways, like Lady Gaga with “Born This Way,” Bey’s made her least accessible album.
Unlike Lady Gaga, however, who tends to take big anthems and make them even bigger through her dramatics and persona, Beyonce is focused primarily on the smaller, deeply personal romantic relationships that mark our lives. They’re the ones the first unite us and then later blow our hearts apart. The girl who was blithely, giddily “Crazy in Love” has now found that love can drive you insane.
Beyonce signals that she is not traveling down her usual sassy, beat-laden, catchy musical path by opening the album with “1 (Plus) 1.” It’s an intimate Alicia Keys-type ballad, despite the rock guitar solo, but with a weird vocal up-hollar at the end of several of the lines that are slightly jarring. The first track of an album is usually an invitation to come on a journey, to ride shotgun with the artist through the next 10 songs or so. Instead, we get a deep album track about realizing the depth of her romantic bond (I’m guessing to Jay-Z) that sounds like it would normally be in the later half of a set.
Rhythmically, she gets back on a pop track, somewhat, with “I Care.” It’s a wide-open, straight from the ‘80s, production with big, echo-y drums and reverberating synth keys. She’s still clinging to a relationship, though her partner has turned his back...so much so that he revels in her pain. By the third song, “I Miss You,” ; they’ve parted, but she still can’t let go and her needs are vexing her.
It feels like Beyonce wrote a mission statement for this album with three goals that she passed out to her raft of producers and co-writers: 1) Show she is grown up and is dealing with the complexities of love and life and is much more than a one-dimensional dancing doll 2) Prove that she really can sing by overloading the album with repeated emotional wallops that allow for full-on belting and 3) Make an highly percussive album that sonically combines rhythms and synths from the ‘70s and ‘80s with modern technology.
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