After months of anticipation, Beyoncé's 4 finally found its way to the internet last night, and we've had a blast sharing our thoughts on it with you guys via our track-by-track reviews. But now that we've made it through all 12 tracks, we figure we'll save your fingers a couple clicks by compiling all of our analyses in one handy, convenient location—with the additional draw of ranking them in order of Popdust Approval, from 12 (lowest) to 1 (highest), because no big-scale review is ever complete without a countdown of some sort. Thanks for reading, and feel free to share your opinion on our rankings (or to provide a ranking of your own) in the comment's section.
No. 12: "Start Over"
Sounds Like: One of Ryan Tedder's diva ballads, a mid-tempo, over-dramatic chugger about relationship strife, like Jordin Sparks' "Battlefield" or Kelly Clarkson's "Already Gone." Lots of piano, loud, echoing drums, and Beyoncé wailing on the chorus.
Pros: The intro is kinda cool and skeletal, just some atmospheric synth and insistent drum tapping. And throughout the song, the swaths of reverb that occasionally pierce through the thick production are a nice, appropriately yearning touch.
Cons: The song's a bore, nothing we haven't heard from Beyoncé or on pop radio before, with subject matter heard elsewhere and far more interestingly on the album already. The lyrics are clichéd bordering on ridiculous, lines like "Maybe we reached a mountain peak / And there's no more left to climb / And maybe we lost a magic piece / And we're both too blind to find" coming off like a cautionary tale about poor use of figurative language in creative writing. Beyoncé tries her best to imbue them with legitimate emotion, especially on the chorus, but it's just not happening this time around.
Lyric as Personal Mantra: "Maybe you like it / Well I don't / Maybe you settle / Well I won't."
No. 11: "I Was Here"
Sounds Like: Another Ryan Tedder ballad, this time at least slightly-less-than-mid-tempo, but with the same reliance on piano, big drums and bigger vocals as "Start Over." Really, it sounds like a song that could be used as a first-single song for an American Idol winner, which isn't nearly as much of a compliment as it probably sounds.
Pros: One thing you've got to say for this album—no shortage of cool intros. This one has quivering, air-conditioner-like reverb and and plaintively plucked guitar setting an appropriately somber mood, though unfortunately it only lasts for about 15 seconds before Beyoncé and the song's beat kick in. Also, the combination of xylophone and piano that recurs as a hook throughout is nice.
Cons: Why so morbid, Beyoncé? We're not sure what exactly has the Queen B feeling her mortality so—turning 30 isn't easy for anyone, we suppose—but it's responsible for a couple of the draggiest songs on 4, and "I Was Here" is pretty goddamn heavy-handed. There's more octave-up harmonizing like on "I Miss You," but this time around, we're not particularly interested in what either Beyoncé has to wail about. "Leave something to remember / I was here / I lived, I loved." What, you mean like 11 million albums sold and five #1 singles in your solo career alone? Yeah, we think you should be good on that one, B.
Lyric as Personal Mantra: "The hearts that I touch / Will be the proof that I have / That I made a difference."
No. 10: "Rather Die Young"
Sounds Like: Another midtempo jam from Beyonce, in which she rhapsodizes not simply about dying for her lover but doing so pretty early in life. Also, Yvonne Elliman.
Pros: Beyonce's voice is strong as always, but that's to be expected; what's less expected is how the melody winds itself around corners and into nooks, both familiar (the verses echo "If I Can't Have You" fairly exactly and likely purposefully) and new. The fluttery synth-and-guitar outro is particularly gorgeous.
Cons: The message is rather self-negating for Beyonce, isn't it? Dying young is glamorized by bumper stickers and romanticized by The Band Perry, but in reality it's just sad and not the best way to approach a relationship. It's also the only really memorable thing about the song. We realize that we've lived with "Rather Die Young" for less than 24 hours, but we nevertheless suspect "Rather Die Young" will turn out to be one of those songs that's gorgeous in isolation but indistinguishable in a crowd.
Lyric as Personal Mantra: "I'd rather not live at all than live my life without you." It's a mantra, at least.
No. 9: "1+1"
Sounds Like: B employs Whitney Houston's sky high-for-emphasis "oohs" circa "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." The track is more of a rock ballad than R&B, thanks to a commanding piano and guitar-driven melody.
Pros: While we're used to the frustrations of a recently scorned woman followed by proclamations of her own independence, on "1+1" Beyoncé in blinded by feelings of love, completely intertwined with her male subject. Her repeated pleading for him to "make love to [her]," is the most vulnerable we've ever heard Sasha Fierce, moreso than even the saddest of her breakup songs and she uses gritty vocals to emphasize she is not complete without the one she loves. The slow building guitar can be heard more clearly on the album version than during her Idol finale performance, applying a steady progression than stabilizes her jumping vocals.
Cons: Failure to really take off. Plus, the lame mathematical equation as a metaphor for love, the use of "algebra"—which we can't hear without thinking of 2Ge+her—and the title.
Lyric As Personal Mantra: "Make love to me. So that when the worlds at war, that our love heal us all."
For songs number eight through five, click NEXT.
No. 8: "End of Time"
Sounds Like: All the energy a-clatter in "Run The World (Girls)" channeled into a love song, or perhaps the rest of 4 after stumbling out of a theater showing Fela!
Pros: You'd expect "End of Time" to have a bit more heft on the album, where its frame isn't just a SoundCloud cage with a guy shouting through the bars about authorized use only. But on 4, it's such a tonal shock, its beat more crackly, the intro's background vocals more dazed and the horns more awake, that once Beyonce stands up for the first chorus, you can't help but cheer and sing along. Bey's rapid-patter, chopped-ch-ch-chopped vocals sound much less gimmicky after an album's worth of straight singing, and the near-breathless "bring your love to me" bridge leaves us feeling rather the same.
Cons: Fela Kuti's a hell of an influence to live up to, and "End of Time" still has a faint cheesiness better suited to children's TV themes and knockoff world-music CDs than passionate declarations. And there's a few baby/crazy rhymes and diluted sentiments "I'll be your friend" too many for us really to take this to heart.
Lyric as Personal Mantra: "Come, take my hand, I won't let you go."
No. 7: "Party" Featuring Andre 3000
Sounds Like: Your late night party anthem. Rather than the song that drags everyone to to dance floor, "Party" is the head-bobbing, after hours soundtrack (think "Big Poppa"). This throwback track samples 1985 classic "La Di Da Di" by Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh, with a repetitive syllable-enthused chorus that gives "Umbrella" some competition.
Pros: Huge '80s-inspired synths carry the otherwise mid-tempo track; B's vocal gymnastics are on particular display ("Cause tonight’s the night, uh, uh, uh ooh") as she gets pretty "Naughty Girl"-randy, describing what sounds to us more like a party for two Your touch is driving me crazy / I can’t explain the way I feel / Tuck down with the radio on / And the night belong to us / Just hold me close, don’t let me go"). Producer Kanye West provides a brief intro, managing to coin the term "Swagu," which feels like something we'll be hearing for some time.
Cons: While an appearance by Andre 3000 is always welcome, it feels wasted here. Dre's observation on age may be accurate ("Never thought that we could become someone else’s hero /Man, we were just in the food court, eating our gyro") but getting older is depressing, and definitely a buzz kill.
Lyric as Personal Mantra: "I may be young, but I’m ready/ To give you all my love." And because everyone likes to have a good time: "Cause we like to party, ey, ey, ey, ey, ey."
No. 6: "Run the World (Girls)"
Sounds Like: Well, first and foremost, it sounds like Major Lazer's "Pon de Floor," the sinewy, popping dancefloor filler that the song samples for its highly unconventional beat. Otherwise, it sounds like the Queen B commanding her femme-army in a statement of personal empowerment—though a decade after "Independent Women, Pt. 1," if they haven't accepted that girls run this shit by now, they probably never will.
Pros: We still love that sample, one of the rawest, most unique-sounding and most purely exciting backing tracks that any top 40 jam has used in a long-ass time. And Beyoncé impresses us more each time we hear "Girls" with the sheer fervor of her voice, whether shouting out her hometown ("This the way they made me / Houston, Texas baby!") or calling out her prospective haters ("I think I need a barber / None of these bitches can fade me"). And her self-harmonizing this time means actual interesting harmonies, not just the same part two octaves apart.
Cons: It's all in the name of being anthemic, but it's hard to deny that the song's endless stream of word-shuffle chanting ("Who run the world? Girls!" "Girls! We run this mother!" "Who are we? What we run? The world!") gets a little rote after a while—not to mention that it's hardly the most original sentiment to begin with. Besides, not to date ourselves by talking about a subject matter as antiquated as LP track ordering, but why on earth would Beyoncé decide to use this song as her album's closer? (At least it gets the "I Was Here" taste of our mouths., though.)
Lyric as Personal Mantra: Whole thing, really, but let's go with "My persuasion can build a nation / Endless power, our love we can devour / You'll do anything for me."
No. 5: "Best Thing I Never Had"
Sounds Like: The twinkling piano evokes Tupac's "Changes" (or, more likely Bruce Hornsby's "The Way It Is") and its triumph over a deadbeat boyfriend theme has the progression of previous B track "Irreplaceable."
Pros: Like said monster hit, it’s person-specific. Lyrics are targeted at the one Bey, and every other woman, knows did her wrong, rather than simply asserting female power over men in general. This directive onslaught of empowerment crafts it to be more of a standout jam, and it's an essential breakup track thanks to some brilliant digs—colloquial kiss-offs—that any lady can use at her leisure (“You don’t deserve my tears / I guess that’s why they aren’t there”), or any tween can post as her Facebook status (“It sucks to be you right now” and “You showed your ass and I saw the real you”) for years to come.
Cons: About that colloquialism—something about Beyoncé using the term "sucks" seems slightly off. She's too much of a lady for that.
Lyric as Personal Mantra: "You showed your ass and I saw the real you."
For songs number four through two, click NEXT.
No. 4: "I Miss You"
Sounds Like: Beyonce's take on a mid-'80s Foreigner ballad, with the same kind of vocal longing, late-night desperation lyrics, and most importantly, thick, moody synths.
Pros: Dear God, you've got to love those synths, and the minimal, geiger-counter-sounding click-pop beat is the perfect complement to it, keeping the song feeling light and understated, sparing the musical histrionics of a "Dangerously in Love" or "If I Were a Boy." Beyoncé responds in appropriately-restrained turn, beginning the song in a near-whisper: "I thought that things like this get better with time / But I still need you / Why is that?" The latter rhetorical question reappears throughout the song, a nice little nod to the confusion of heartbreak, and a rare, welcome glimpse of vulnerability for an artist who too often seems to have all of the answers.
Cons: Even at her most subtle, Beyoncé can't resist going a little dramatic on the song's later choruses, harmonizing with herself with one of the Queen B's vocals raised an octave. To be fair, it still works pretty well—the subdued cool of Beyoncé on the surface, undermined by the desperate cry of her subconscious–but it would've been nice to hear Beyoncé go a whole song without ever once registering at a 10.
Lyric as Personal Mantra: "No matter who you are / It is so simple / A feeling / But it's everything."
No. 3: "Love On Top"
Sounds Like: A dollop of "Single Ladies" sass atop a burbly victory dance of a track that's definitely not about being single. The glow after "1+1" that'll linger with you hours afterward.
Pros: Beyonce pulls off the throwback without sounding stiff. When people say that a track could have been released in any decade, it's often a subtle insult, a way of really saying "...but it's not relevant in this one." Beyonce doesn't have this problem. Sure, "Love On Top" is festooned with enough horns (we'll hear more from them later) and '80s synth pads to pass for a classic, but the "Single Ladies" echoes by the backing vocalists in the pre-chorus remind us what year we're in, and Bey's voice is timeless anyway. It's nice, too, to hear a love song that feels earned, where there's as much surprise as in her words as cooing.
Cons: Were the key changes really necessary? "Love On Top" is joyous enough without having to chug the aural equivalent of 5-Hour Energy.
Lyric as Personal Mantra: "After fighting through my tears, finally you put me first."
No. 2: "Countdown"
Sounds Like: A frenetic, all instruments on deck shitstorm. And we mean that in a good way. It's got the rattling percussion of DC's "Lose My Breath," with blaring trumpet, slightly reggae-flavored synths and did we hear a steel drum somewhere in there?
Pros: This chorus of this aggressive track "dedicated to the one [she] loves" operates on an obvious a ten to one countdown, but the titular metaphor is hardly its strongest moment. Beyoncé flexes her vocal chords on the breathy hook ("Oh, killing me softly / And I'm still falling") all while maintaining her B-is-from-Texas swagger throughout. In an album filled with emotional catharsis via huge, sweeping ballads, "Countdown" finds the middle ground between calling upon your female army to eviscerate the male gender entirely, and begging your man to come to bed. It's undoubtedly a love song, but it's a sassy take on treating a man well, undercutting any subservient imagery by the assertion that B—and all of us ladies—come first, and he should be so lucky to have her grind up on him. Go ahead and try not to bounce to "me and my boof and in my boof boof riding." And those steel drums. Always more steel drums, please.
Cons: While we want to argue with B's advice to be up in the kitchen (in heels) "to win his mind" (what, Jay can't fix his own meals?) it's hard to find fault with a track that simultaneously threatens said man with such unabashed confidence: "If you leave me, you're out of your mind."
Lyric as Personal Mantra: "Say it real loud if you're fly / If you leave me, you're out of your mind." It begs repeating, but only because it's so true.
For our favorite song off Beyoncé's 4, click NEXT.
No. 1: "I Care"
Sounds Like: Musical catharsis: all your pent-up heartbreak splitting its confines, never to return. The song that "Listen" was holding back.
Pros: Beyonce's developed a truly formidable instrument since Destiny's Child, and "I Care" is rangy enough to show it all off, its melody both stretching well above the scale and dipping into a smoky low register that singers overlook too often. You'd expect melisma, and melisma you get, both on its own and trilling in time with a guitar solo. But given the subject matter, that's more than excusable, and Beyonce imbues every note with enough emotion--"you're immune to all my pain" in verse one alone carries a song's worth of resignation--that it never feels tiresome.
There are enough subtle details in "I Care," too, to catch upon your inevitable repeat listens, like the teardrop sounds that plink down into nothing in the intro, the way every line echoes at half volume, the hairline-fissure percussion that slips in during the second verse and the way Beyonce's whistle-register recedes into the background underneath the chorus, instrument more than vocal trophy.
Cons: Drained of Beyonce's vocal gusto, a lot of these lyrics are really bad. The example most people will quote is the forced rhyme of "tears falling down to my ears," but the over-caring likes of "maybe if you cared enough, I wouldn't have to care so much" and the la-las in the chorus don't read well on paper. Of course, a good singer can whittle even the most banal declarative statements into daggers, and Beyonce does. You could make a case for the guitar solo being cheesy, too, but by that point in the song you're either swept up or not.
Lyric as Personal Mantra: "I know you don't care too much, but I still care."
Agree with our rankings? Amazed we ranked "Run the World" in the top half? Think we give Ryan Tedder too much crap? Let us know all about it in the comments section.