When the mutterings of a new album surfaced earlier this year, the 29-year-old performer declared that her alter ego Sasha Fierce had been killed off and that her new material would head in a different direction. So, now that Knowles's fourth studio album - the aptly-titled 4 - has arrived, has Queen B stayed true to her word?
Acting as vocal producer for the entire record, Beyoncé has made a conscious effort to challenge her windpipes beyond anything she has belted before. Raspy and husky growls on 'I Care' and 'Start Over' demonstrate this, offering moments of raw, heartfelt emotion.
Booty-shaking military beats on 'Run The World' and carnival-styled brass sections stand out as the record's quirkier production elements, adding bursts of sass to latter tracks 'End Of Time' and 'Countdown' - as well as laying the groundwork for Bey's trademark 'tude-fuelled stage routines.
Although there is a clear indication of having evolved her sound, Beyoncé's Achilles heel comes in the album's subject matter. "Thank God you blew it/ Thank God I dodged the bullet/ I'm so over you/ So baby good lookin' out" she quips in 'Best Thing I Never Had', a power-house R&B ballad produced by Babyface.
Despite such numbers being the album's highlights, they comes across as disingenuous from the happily-married Mrs Jay-Z. Given that we've already had three album's worth of ball-crunching hyperbole, it would have been nice to hear Bouncy move beyond that for a change.
Tracks to download: 'Best Thing I Never Had', 'Countdown', 'I Care', 'End Of Time'
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