x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Beyoncé - 4

Beyoncé Knowles' latest album takes in funk, Afrobeat and Motown to create a storming collection of songs.


(Sony Music)


What do you do if your world-beating talent is in direct competition with someone else's world-beating talent? Join forces, of course.
When Beyoncé Knowles and Lady Gaga did just that in the video for Gaga's Telephone, it was a clever, spread-your-bases move that left Rihanna - no slouch in the diva stakes herself - reduced to hamming it up at the Billboard awards. Strip away the publicity stunts, though, and the greatest store of sheer ability surely lies with Knowles. Olympian vocals? Check. Gospel-to-ghetto versatility? Check.
There's a timeless, truly formidable aspect to Knowles that makes her seem as though she just is, like Everest or the Nile. Now comes 4, a record whose 12 songs were reportedly pared down from a possible 22, and Knowles's first album since splitting from her manager (and father) Mathew "on a business level".
Influences such as early Michael Jackson, The Stylistics, Nigeria's Fela Kuti and (most of all) Prince are clearly discernible as Knowles deploys emotive balladry, funk, Afrobeat and rock. This is a decidedly old-school album; indeed, only the recent single, Run the World, and Party, a rather sparkless collaboration with André 3000, push contemporary R&B buttons.
Knowles's 2004 duet with Prince at the Grammy Awards seems to have informed 4's opener 1+1. Its verse line "Don't know much about algebra" is a nod to Sam Cooke's Wonderful World, true, but the timbre of Knowles's falsetto notes and the song's pleasingly overblown guitar solo flag an homage to Prince's Purple Rain that also manages to be its own beast. I Care - an album standout with moody verses and ecstatic, tightly marshalled choruses - also has splashes of Prince-style lead guitar.
In fact, the best music here is just too good to award fewer than four stars out of five.
One of the last songs finished was I Was Here, a typically grandiose ballad penned by Dianne Warren, also the writer of Aerosmith's I Don't Want to Miss a Thing. "I want to leave my footprints on the sand of time", roars Beyoncé, accessing a suitably gritty tone. Rest easy, B - you can confidently strike that one from your "to do" list.