Columbia

We at So So Gay weren’t exactly bowled over when Beyoncé unveiled her new single, ‘Run The World (Girls)’. The song is a tuneless mess; it is, however, also a misleading lead single. Luckily nothing else on 4 sounds anything like it, but that doesn’t mean there’s much else of interest on offer either. This is the album Beyoncé wanted to make, but really shouldn’t have; melody and hooks are forgotten, removed to make way for a misguided attempt at soul. Beyoncé may be one of pop’s most gifted natural entertainers, but 4 is a complete misfire.

The tepid ’1+1′ opens the album with a non-existent chorus and cheesy power-ballad guitar solos. It almost justifies its place with unintentionally hilarious lyrics like, ‘I don’t know much about algebuh but I know one and one is two’. The R’n’B throwback sound may be somewhat of a departure for Beyoncé, but it’s a style that has never entirely fallen out of favor in the genre, and from a star of her magnitude it sounds entirely uninteresting. Though she is undeniably a powerful singer, soul and emotion are not her specialty. When Beyoncé aims for the outlandish, as on ‘Run The World (Girls)’, she goes all out and delivers an over-the-top, drag-show worthy performance. When she aims for intimacy (as she does on much of 4) we get, well… an over-the-top drag-show worthy performance.

‘I Was Here’, penned by Dianne Warren, sounds conceited rather than inspiring with its melodramatic claims that, ‘I made a difference and this world will see that I was here’. On ‘I Miss You’ Beyoncé should have aimed for fragility; instead, she growls her backing vocals and the production is more boudoir than broken-heart. Second single, ‘Best Thing I Never Had’ is ‘Irreplaceable’ minus the hook. Its most notable feature is the eyebrow-raising lyric, ‘you showed yo ass and I saw the real you’. A track named ‘Party’ with guest spots from personalities as large as Kanye West and André 3000 would usually be something to get excited about, but it seems as though Beyoncé and her entourage took a heavy dose of sedatives before heading to the club. The song plods along with all the joy of a funeral procession.

4′s unusual running order saves the up-tempo tracks for the album’s second half. The half-rapped ‘Upgrade U’-esque ‘Countdown’ may be jarring in the context of the album, but marks a welcome return of what could be called Beyoncé’s trademark sound, featuring a brilliant sample of Boyz II Men’s ‘Uhh Ahh’. The lyrics (‘All up in the kitchen in my heels / dinnertime’), however, are strange coming from a woman who has just declared that girls run the world. ‘End of Time’ is the album’s true standout moment, with a military drum beat, apocalyptic horns and infectious cheerleader chants. Beyoncé returns to top form as she croons, ‘I will love you until the end of time’.

Beyoncé has chosen to go left when everyone else in the pop game has gone right – a gamble that, unfortunately, hasn’t paid off. She has recently said that she feels she has ‘earned the right to take risks’, but little of that ambition shines through on an album that sounds as weak, safe and familiar as much of 4. No matter how cohesive and competently executed the album may be, there’s no use pretending there are any hit singles or real artistry on offer here. It’s time for the Beyoncé machine to go into full damage control mode; maybe firing manager-father, Matthew, wasn’t a wise decision for Mrs. Z.

4 is out now on iTunes.