Eight years after launching her solo career with her Grammy-winning debut Dangerously in Love, Beyoncé remains one of pop’s most formidable forces. With the release of her fourth album 4 in stores today, the 29-year-old singer explores new territory—mixing the hypnotizing sounds of Diplo and Switch (“Run the World (Girls),” “End of Time”) with Diane Warren’s big ballad (“I Was Here”) and Kanye West and André 3000’s old school anthem (“Party”). How did the critics grade her latest work? Find out below.
Entertainment Weekly: The terrific “End of Time” seethes with off-balance harmonies, MJ-style Off the Wall horns, and a bionic Bo Diddley beat, all while Bey howls her eternal love to everyone and no one in particular. It’s exactly the kind of genre-busting risk that few other current pop stars would even attempt, let alone pull off flawlessly with â€¨a no-big-thing shrug. B
Rolling Stone: 4 might be her strangest recÂord. It’s a big-budget megapop album with an A list of guest stars (Kanye West, André 3000) and songwriter-producers (Tricky Stewart, The-Dream, Diplo, Ryan Tedder, Diane Warren). Yet it’s as eccentric—as unmistakably personal and quirky—as anything that Sufjan Stevens ever cooked up in his bedroom. 3.5/5
USA Today: Compared with Beyoncé’s three previous albums, which arrived on a wave of hit singles, the release of 4 seems relatively quiet. Neither lead single “Run the World (Girls)” nor “Best Thing I Never Had” has caught fire on the charts. But after [Sasha] Fierce‘s duality, Beyoncé does not seem to need to make a cutting-edge statement. This time, she’s content to stay in her comfort zone. 3/4
New York Daily News: For her fourth solo work, assigned the informational title 4, a singer long obsessed with self-empowerment finally lets herself play pining wretch or devoted lover far more often than her usual role of answer-back queen or preening pinup. 4/5
The Washington Post: On Tuesday, Beyoncé drops 4, as in her fourth album. It’s also her fourth-best album, as in her worst. Both cool and low-key, its subdued tone suggests that she’s turning an intimate new leaf. Surprise! She isn’t. Instead, Beyoncé sounds more precise and distant than ever, making these mid-tempo tunes feel vexing at first, then dull.
Chicago Tribune: Beyoncé finally puts a bounce in her step with the goofy “Love on Top” and “Countdown,” and “End of Time” mixes boisterous marching drums, staccato horns and dipping, diving vocals. It’s an all-too-brief glimpse of the “mad scientist” at work. Maybe next time she’ll get in the lab with some better songs. 2.5/4
The Guardian: This isn’t by any means a bad album. … It’s just that it isn’t the album you might have been led to expect. The high points offer hints of what it might have been: it’s hard not to feel that what it might have been sounds better than what it is. 3/5
The Boston Globe: This album is also one of Beyoncé’s most natural efforts, standing out for the simple fact that it doesn’t try to stand out. Its 12 songs are often rooted in neo-soul, the kind Maxwell and Erykah Badu were recording for baby-making soundtracks back in the ’90s.
SPIN: The lack of in-your-face future-funk arrangements isn’t a sign that Beyoncé has lost her appetite for domination; indeed, as a singer’s showcase, 4 will probably end up bested this year only by Adele’s 21. 8/10
Rap-Up’s Favorite Tracks: “I Care,” “Party,” “Countdown,” “End of Time”