Beyonce's fourth album, the imaginatively titled 4, sees the R&B diva stray from the formula that has worked so well for her up to now in favour of a more reserved, deliberate pace. The energy of her massive hits Crazy In Love and Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) has been replaced with 90's-tinged Whitney-esque soul, suggesting that Beyonce is eager to expand her repertoire from dancefloor-filling club jams to ballads. However this proves to be something of a jarring transition, as 4 is a largely dull and spiritless affair.
Beyonce has never really been known for her lyrical prowess but some of the verses on 4 are downright silly. "I don't know much about guns but I've been shot by you / I don't know when I'm gonna die but I hope I'm gonna die by you", she croons angrily in 1+1. Elsewhere, Beyonce also manages to go down the Lil' Kim route in the distinctly non-feminist Countdown, "Ladies if you love your man, show him you're the flyest / grind up on it girl, show him how you ride it".
4 occasionally lifts itself from the mid-tempo range it mostly inhabits and stretches its legs. Producer Kanye West's fingerprints are all over I Care and it's more the type of song that fans associate with Beyonce, with a soaring chorus making the most of what it is Beyonce's strongpoint - her voice. The same can be for Start Over. The few upbeat songs on 4 are when it is at its best but as soon as these songs are over the album returns once again to the drudgery which mostly defines it.
Beyonce deserves some credit for this change of pace. It would have been easy to release an album filled with hooks and catchy choruses, but it's these sorts of songs that have made her so popular in the first place and the abandonment of these sorts of songs has led to Beyonce releasing her most dour solo album to date.