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FIRST LISTEN: Beyonce's eclectic album 4 is much better than its first singles

FIRST LISTEN: Beyonce's eclectic album 4 is much better than its first singles

4, Beyonce's fourth studio album, was apparently inspired by the nine months she spent away from her job, a period of time she spent travelling and soaking up musical influences.

Indeed, she's lined up an impressive array of collaborators on this album, from Odd Future rising star Frank Ocean to UK house producer Switch, to old favourites like Diane Warren and Ryan Tedder.

The first impression most listeners got of the album was the early single Run the World (Girls), a decidedly odd effort, which sampled Major Lazer's underground hit Pon De Floor and succeeded in annoying hipsters and alienating much of her audience in one go. It was not a major hit and remains the sound of a great idea in search of a song when it closes the album here.

Its global follow up is Best Thing I Never Had, which sees Beyonce back on more familiar territory with a Babyface production and a Bruce Hornsby-esque piano. Critical reaction again has been rather muted, with some fearing that the pendulum has swung too far back into solid predictability after the commercial failure of Run The World.

The signs for 4, then, are not especially auspicious and the album leaking online at the start of the month can't have helped.

But Beyonce is, as a sizeable Glastonbury audience will discover this Sunday, a pro and recording bad albums doesn't come into her career plan. 4 is, then, considerably better than the two singles would have you believe.

The songs on the album fall largely into three categories: the ballads; the soul / R&B numbers and the just plain weird, where you feel those nine months exploring the world really have come to the fore.

The ballads are the easiest to deal with: they are, to a number, highly professional, epic and with some very strong songwriting. They will break no barriers but will undoubtedly serve Beyonce well.

The R&B numbers include some of the strongest songs on the album, from the percussive funk of I Care - an album highlight - to disco-esque number Love On Top, although there is an oddly melancholic streak running through them.

The third category is more difficult to define but probably provides the most fun, with one song, Coundown, featuring what genuinely sounds like gabber mixed with Latin pop, while End Of Time lets Switch get his stuttering vocal trickery and disco filters out.

Below is a track-by-track run through of 4:

1+1

Written by Terius Nash, Christopher Stewart and Beyonce Knowles. Produced by Beyonce Knowles, Terius "The-Dream" Nash and C. "Tricky" Stewart.

The album kicks off confidently with a stirring ballad that starts off like a classic soul production but ends with a guitar solo so twiddly it could be early Guns N Roses.

I Care

Written by Jeff Bhasker, Chad Hugo and Beyonce Knowles. Produced by Jeff Bhasker. Co-produced by Beyonce Knowles.

An early highlight: Chad Hugo, one half of The Neptunes, is on writing duties, which might explain the track's undoubted similarity to some of the production duo's classy early tracks. Despite the massive drums and - again - screeching guitar solo, the song feels touched with sadness, largely thanks to a fantastic chorus.

I Miss You

Written by Frank Ocean, Shea Taylor and Beyonce Knowles. Produced by Beyonce Knowles and Shea Taylor.

It may be the influence of Frank Ocean but I Miss You is the first track on the album to have a modern feel. It is constructed from a stripped down beat and washes of synth, making a very simple track but one that benefits from its simplicity.

Best Thing I Never Had

Written by Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, Antonio Dixon, Beyonce Knowles, Patrick "j.Que" Smith, Shea Taylor, Larry Griffin, Jr. and Caleb McCampbell. Produced by Beyonce Knowles, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, Antonio Dixon, Shea Taylor and S1 & Caleb.

The second singles and very Eighties sounding. Not a highlight.

Party (Featuring Andre 3000)

Written by K. West, Jeff Bhasker, Beyonce Knowles, Dexter R. mills, Douglas Davis and Ricky Walters. Produced by Beyonce Knowles and Kanye West. Co-produced by Jeff Bhasker.

Party is a light, summery pop song with another production job that sounds indebted to the Eighties. That said, you might have expected more from the talent involved and it is unlikely to go down as among the best work of Kanye West, Beyonce or Andre 3000.

Rather Die Young

Written by Jeff Bhasker, Luke Steele and Beyonce Knowles. Produced by Jeff Bhasker. Co-produced by Beyonce Knowles and Luke Steele.

Rather Die Young, another drum-heavy ballad, features the songwriting talent of The Sleepy Jackson / Empire Of The Sun's Luke Steele. It's another gloomy number - Beyonce sings "I would rather die young than live my life without you" - but has a lovely melody, albeit it one that screams out to end an album, rather than sit in the middle.

Start Over

Written by Shea Taylor, Beyonce Knowles and E. Dean. Produced by Beyonce Knowles and Shea Taylor.

The first indication that Beyonce might have picked some leftfield influences during those nine months off: the song starts with what sounds like - but most probably isn't - distorted pan pipes before kicking into a massive R&B number.

Love on Top

Written by Beyonce Knowles, Terius Nash and Shea Taylor. Produced by Beyonce Knowles and Shea Taylor.

This song has a late Seventies disco soul sound to it that is summery and laidback, rather than massively immediate. However, it proves a grower as it ratchets up the key changes on the final third. Beyonce's voice sounds particularly impressive here.

Countdown

Written by Terius Nash, Shea Taylor, Beyonce Knowles, E.Dean, Cainon Lamb, Julie Frost, Michael Bivins, Nathan Morris and Wanya Morris. Produced by Beyonce Knowles and Shea Taylor.

The oddest thing on the album and almost certainly in Beyonce's whole career. She's never exactly shied away from experimenting before but a song that starts off Latin before tearing into 180 BPM rave kickdrums is a new page in anyone's book and, quite frankly, good to hear. Glastonbury, you feel, will appreciate it.

End of Time

Written by Beyonce Knowles , Terius Nash, Shea Taylor and David Taylor. Produced by Beyonce Knowles and Terius "The-Dream" Nash. Additional production by Switch.

The song starts off like a classic Switch production, with filters, sub bass and military drumming. It then sags a bit in the rather tune-free verses before a great chorus snatches victory.

I Was Here

Written by Diane Warren. Produced by Ryan Tedder and Brent Kutzle. Vocal produced by Beyonce Knowles and Kuk Harrell.

This is a classic Diane Warren ballad with a haunting ethereal guitar resonating in the background before the obligatory massive drums kick in. A great song, well sung.

Run the World (Girls)

Written by Terius Nash, Beyonce Knowles, Wesley Pentz, David Taylor, Adidja Palmer and Nick van de Wall. Produced by Switch and Terius "The-Dream" Nash. Co-produced by Beyonce Knowles and Shea Taylor.

Consumers may have largely shunned it and, while you want to applaud Beyonce's willingness to experiment, you can understand why, as it comes up rather short on melody.

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