This is a rare marketing and A&R disaster in the making: Beyonce‘s new album, called “4,” will be released officially on Monday in the UK and in the US on Tuesday. It’s a potential dud, big time. Already attacked on Page Six in the New York Post yesterday, “4″ was “leaked” back on June 9th to blogs and on Twitter. Now it’s officially streaming on AOL. You can listen to it and judge for yourselves, but this CD is problematic to say the least.
What’s interesting is that neither Page Six nor some testy blogs have figured out how this happened.
Blaming Sony’s Rob Stringer is not the answer. I think the responsibility for this debacle will rest with Teresa LaBarbera Whites, senior A&R exec for Columbia Records. Whites has been working with Beyonce since discovering her at the age of 9 in Texas two decades ago. Whites moved back to Columbia from Jive Records earlier this year just to work with Beyonce on this CD. (It was Whites who resuscitated Britney Spears on her last two albums.)
Beyonce has always been in a strange position with her solo albums. Her first hit, “Crazy in Love,” was a reworking of a Chi Lites record, with a huge sample of the horns and rhythm section. Since then she’s had really just a couple of actual hits–”Single Ladies” and “Irreplaceable.” Beyonce herself is not a writer, and she generally has poor song selections. On her last album, the song “If I Were a Boy” was appropriated from young singer songwriter B.C. Jean, who consequently got a recording deal with Clive Davis.
“4″ is very misguided. I’m actually surprised that the collection is so uninspired and has no cohesive vision. The first three tracks are desultory ballads. There’s actually a song called “Rather Die Young.” Really? Beyonce would rather die young? Drop dead gorgeous, married to a hip hop mogul (Jay Z), gifted with a fabulous voice–and she’s singing about dying young? Who allowed such a thing to happen?
Better track sequencing could have really helped “4.” Tracks 8, 9, 10, and 11– the excellent “Love on Top,” the inventive “Countdown,” a very catchy “End of Time,” and “I Was Here” — are the standouts. I would have led with these tracks instead of burying them. (But didn’t Beyonce already have a song called “Until the End of Time”?) The new album has a feeling of being tired, and rushed, and not really thought through in any meaningful way. Those four songs should have been the singles and hits–and featured prominently.
Never at this age did Aretha, Gladys or Tina sound this disengaged from their own work. But — as pointed out in current stories– Beyonce isn’t just a singer. She’s an empire. Her voice is no longer an instrument. It’s a marketing tool. And not a very good one right now.