Beyoncé: '4'


4 (Columbia)

Nobody will be putting a ring on this one.

The cast of producers and writers on Beyoncé's fourth solo album is staggering, including Kanye West, The-Dream, Babyface, Diane Warren, and Odd Future's Frank Ocean. Outkast's reclusive André 3000 contributes a killer cameo in the otherwise powerfully boring mid-album track "Party," a song that will likely never be partied to by anybody, ever. And B didn't get her money's worth in these lyrics, which are not always bad but are sometimes awful ("It sucks to be you right now").

Based on album credits, it's fairly obvious that Columbia's money was on closer "Run the World (Girls)," which credits more writers and producers than the rest of the album combined, including hip-hop beatsmith du jour Afrojack and electro badass Diplo. Sadly, instead of a next step, it's more of a "Single Ladies" victory lap, a song designed for ad placement.

The strongest element, predictably, is B's voice, and not just because it's one of the best around (though it is). Something interesting is going on during many of these new songs. There's a new, ragged edge; her voice doesn't sound aged and doesn't sound tired, but it sounds seasoned. It sounds as good as ever, but with a dash of honesty.