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>With all huge Stars of the music industry and their new albums, expectations are the biggest hurdle. And for Beyoncé and her fourth solo album “4” it’s no different.

Her discography up until this release has been quite diverse but also relatively safe, and for this outing people might be expecting something a little more out there from her. Maybe expanding on the Rock and Electronica she flirted with on her last album “I Am… Sasha Fierce”, or going into a totally different direction with something more worldly and international given the year hiatus she spent traveling the world.Or the album could be commercial tripe made specifically for chart dominance.

“4” is none of those things, and that is it’s biggest strength and at the same time it’s weakness. Beyoncé is much more subdued than on any of her previous works, and it’s because this album is her covering material that is right in her comfort zone. “4” plays like a continuation of her R&B heavy debut solo album “Dangerously In Love”, but showing her vocal growth in the 7 years since than. While some might complain that she didn’t push herself enough, others will say that she’s taking a big risk by staying true to herself. Either way, when you put expectations aside “4” is a more than solid album, it’s not nearly as safe as her previous albums, but it still manages to be really familiar and classic.This is truly the album of an artist that is no longer trying to prove anything, but just making music she enjoys.

Vocally she’s the best we’ve ever heard her, and not in the showy way of past hits like “Halo” or “Listen”, she barely belts or has any soaring notes on this album. Even on the Dianne Warren penned “I Was Here”, she resists the urge to turn the somewhat schlocky lyrics into a 90’s style power ballad ala Celine or Whitney. She focuses on singing the lyrics with conviction and emotion. Same with most of the albums best material, the stunning electro-ballad “I Miss You”, the Prince inspired “1+1” and the soulful “Rather Die Young”. When she does show out, it comes out of nowhere like on “I Care” (probably the worst Beyonce hook ever!) where towards the middle she starts running with the melody and pumps out some impressive high notes. Everything she does with her voice here feels natural and again, it’s because this album is totally within her comfort zone. Several songs even feel like the music she probably loved pre-Destiny’s Child. “Love on Top” is a breezy R&B tune that might have been released in 87 or 88 by LeVert or Whitney Houston. “Party” is a chilled-out Hip Hop track similar to an SWV or En Vogue from the early 90’s. And than there are the Prince, Michael Jackson and Earth Wind and Fire influences. At times the album is so nostalgic and smooth it almost doesn’t feel like a Beyonce album, than you have “Countdown” which has the King B stamp all over it with it’s staccato phrasing and attitude. Earlier, the second single “Best Thing I Never Had” plays like a mash up of her previous hits “Irreplaceable” and “Halo” with the female empowerment and “neck twisting” kiss-off lyrics.

“4” is the album that right now might be surprising to listeners, but it will hold up years from now when matched with other albums in her career. It’s not as aggressive and confident as “B’Day”, and it’s not as experimental and diverse as “I Am… Sasha Fierce”, but it really does in a simple subtle way show all of the talents she’s amassed over the years and why she’s easily one of the most respected in her field. She has the goods, and “4” is proof that she doesn’t even have to go overboard to prove it.

4 of 5
Best: End of Time(this link is from her performance at Glastonbury), I Miss You, Party  << not able to find links for the other two. sorry.