Album: Beyoncé, 4 (RCA)

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The Independent Culture

Heavens, Knowles is miserable now.

That's the first impression upon listening to 4, in which Beyoncé's strident triumphalism is displaced by muted heartbreak and the cookie-cutter R&B of her mega-sellers ditched for a subtle, stripped-down sound that suggests someone's been listening to Janelle Monae. It's as convincing as an album which opens with a multi-millionairess imagining herself destitute can be. A classy Beyoncé record? That wasn't in the script.