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Where'd all the fierce go, Sasha? Add to ...

What do we call her now, Sasha Satisfied? Beyoncé, on her ballad-laden fourth album, resorts to neither tricks, trends nor alter egos. It's about her voice - a supple and steely instrument that sounds nothing like that Today Show fake "board-feed" scandal from 2009. (Auto-Tune? Oh, sorry, I thought you said you wanted the Outta-Tune effect.)

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The understated but strongly sung 4 is not always exciting; the Sweet Dreams singer might feel she has nothing left to prove. But her performances here are another signal to the pretenders of American Idol and The Voice that there are singers, and then there are singers, and the lady who purchases $2-million sports cars as spousal birthday gifts is one of latter.

We'll assume her marriage to the hip-hop titan Jay-Z is a happy one, and that the more achy lyrics were written by "co-writers." I Care reflects vulnerability - "What happened to our trust?" - and the piano-tinkling breakup ballad Best Thing I Never Had views heartbreak in an all-for-the-best light.

When 4 leaked earlier this month, a few critics took issue with the relaxed air of the record - "Beyawncé" (oh no you didn't!) - and there's something to that criticism. It does lack the dynamism and sexiness of her previous effort, the bipolar I Am ... Sasha Fierce.

The first non-ballad ( Party) doesn't arrive until track 5, and really, with its eighties swing beat and synth groove, it's not much of a Champagne uncorker. Guests to the Party include rapper André 3000 and the unoverlookable Kanye West, who offers "You a bad girl and your friend's bad too/ You got the swag sauce, you drippin' swaggu."

So, um, yeah.

Rather Die Young, as you might imagine, isn't perky, but Bey works the melodrama well. Start Over is a bit overwrought, with the note-hitting superstar singing strongly about having reached the mountain's peak.

Countdown, with its bumps, jumps, blips, horns and steel drums, is fine fun. End of Time, about devotion, has an afro-beat flair - it's a crowd-mover, sure thing.

The album closes, weirdly enough, with the lead single Run the World (Girls), a call-and-response club pumper that proposes a new, less testicular world order. The Sasha split personality might have split for good, but it's nice to know that on an often unadventurous record, fierce is still in Beyoncé's repertoire.

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  • Beyoncé
  • Sony

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