4, Beyonce's first album since 2008's I Am…Sasha Fierce, has been leaked online in its entirety, nearly three weeks before its official release date of June 28. While the leak left Beyonce disappointed, especially after her first two singles underwhelmed critics, the critics pounced, eager to see if 4 would live up to her previous efforts — lauded albums that garnered labels like "compelling" and "the cutting edge of modern pop." And their response has been muted:
4 is, at best, a "change of pace": This is the kind of record "a pop star makes when she doesn't feel like she has anything to prove," says Matthew Perpetua at Rolling Stone. Unlike her earlier albums, which were stuffed with "blockbuster jams," 4 emphasizes "ballads over bangers." That makes the record "slow-burning" and "low-key," which is not a bad thing. It's just different.
"Beyonce's 4: A track-by-track breakdown"
Actually, 4 is something of a retread for Beyonce: "Is this I Am…Sasha Fierce part 2?" asks Spencer Kornhaber at The Atlantic. OK, not exactly, though the new album's "whiplash" turn from "low-pulse R&B fluff" to uptempo club tracks is certainly reminiscent of the superstar's previous record. Still, 4 does reveal a progression of Beyonce's worldview, as she "tries to reconcile her abject devotion to a man and her desire to be a girl-power champion."
"Snap Review: The mixed message of Beyonce's 4"
And where are the radio hits?: To its credit, Beyonce's album "segues naturally" between ballads, says Amos Barshad at New York, "as if it's a direct rebuke to anyone that was trying to dismiss her as a singles artist." But that doesn't mean the singer's fans aren't clamoring for a "monster radio hit" like "Single Ladies" or "Crazy in Love." Sorry, folks: It appears "Beyonce may not care." The album's best radio options are the "moderate" single "Run the World (Girls)," the "schizophrenic" track "Countdown," and a ho-hum collaboration with Andre 3000 called "Party." Not exactly a hit parade.
"Leaked: Beyonce isn't hiding anything from the radio"