Beyonce has already demonstrated longevity, power, and prowess, so what's next? The one-time 90s R&B idol, front-woman for the powerhouse known as Destiny's Child and creator of she-anthems like "Single Ladies" and "Irreplaceable", and who could even try to forget a smash like "Crazy In Love?" Beyonce has accomplished more than most singers could ever hope, and tamed hip hop's most notorious mogul (Jay-Z, who once had 99 problems, most notably excluding a "lady" as one of them). Ferociously beautiful, rhythmic, capable, and with pipes like a thousand-year-old church organ, Beyonce has nothing left to prove. That's precisely why we receive her unadulterated interests on 4, and precisely why the record has been dubbed everything from "perfect" to "polarizing"—it's a passion project.
4 is a pretty unique mashup of Beyonce's roots (90s R&B, power-anthems, and danceable mid-tempo). At its best, 4 reflects a deeper courtship with the movement of music as empowerment. At its worst, it's a floppy, stale retread of Beyonce memes soundtracked by Major Lazer's insufferable bro-synth, but the entire collection shouldn't be dragged down by one bad egg.
Starting from the top is a much more desirable pathway than entering 4 through the aforementioned tragically flaccid single. "1+1" leads on the right foot, showing off Beyonce's best assets, like the way she spins the words "nothing" and "love" in unbelievably soulful ways even after both have been beaten into a pulp by popular songwriting. And "I Care" is a fresh, surprising nod to the notes of Destiny's past, with a terrific build and beat. Beyonce really triumphs when her voice, not a quick-footed tempo, is the momentum of the song. A few other cuts follow this pattern, like "I Was Here" with its octaves.
The orchestration of the record is often transparently drum heavy, with that "marching band" feel powering much of the beat combinations. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, just something I noticed as distinctly Beyonce, despite the rogues gallery of producers/writers rotating supporting duties on the record, notably The-Dream, Kanye West, Tricky Stewart, and Babyface. Even OFWGKTA's Frank Ocean makes an appearance. But you'd never know there was anyone else without guest verses; Knowles is also a credited producer on every track, and a writer, meaning the universality of her sound is not a coincidence. Never has been. 4 is her baby, like all her records before it, not the byproduct of a pretty face/voice with a staff supporting it, something many people falsely assume about Beyonce. She's written hits before, and if this is what she's into now, then we're into it too.