Beyonce introduces us to an alter-ego that many of us have known for a long time with her third studio album I Am…Sasha Fierce. A double-album that really isn’t, this record features an impressive array of vocal acrobatics from Beyonce in her usual unpretentious but extraordinary style.
The obvious critique here isn’t really with the music but rather with the gimmick. As Sasha Fierce, Beyonce elucidates tracks of the speed and personality that were found to be more than at home on Dangerously in Love or B’Day. Indeed, there is nothing new about Sasha Fierce and nothing overly “fierce” about her either. She is remarkably docile.
The idea of splitting the disc in two is perplexing, as the entire album is only composed of eleven tracks (six are found on the I Am… disc, the remaining five are on Sasha Fierce). Is a double disc really necessary? Nope. Beyonce has precisely and skilfully displayed these two sides before, so it almost seems like a wasted trick. At least when Christina gave us Back to Basics there was a reason for the second disc.
But hell, such are marketing gimmicks…
The music itself is enjoyable and fulfilling, with Beyonce’s emotional approach to singing evident in every track. She pours herself into each one, laying her soul bare for the listener with no shame and little use for theatrics.
It is the first disc that is the most stimulating and, ironically, the most dynamic. Here, Beyonce lays out the strong single “If I Were A Boy” and allows her voice to soar through the upper registry with ease and purity. The track is one of the album’s most impressive, coursing through the bloodline of a woman scorned with no apologies and a sense of brutal irony. Beyonce doesn’t just run through a litany of “guy excuses” either; she’s telling a deeply personal story and it works like a charm.
“Broken-Hearted Girl” is breathtaking, as Beyonce catches all of the right notes and pours herself into the song with command and control. Strings drive through the background, punctuating what could easily be a lame self-affirmation ballad with notes of necessity and feeling. And “Satellites” is a stunning song accented by soft guitar and Beyonce’s graceful voice.
Her take on “Ave Maria” is affectionate, offering some updated lyrics and an utterly astounding arrangement sure to give chills to the listener.
The second disc introduces us to Sasha Fierce starting with the fun single “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” Accented by a sound effect that sounds like it’s from Frogger, the cut’s beat should work well in dance halls.
Fierce, who Beyonce designed “exclusively for the stage,” wears a “roboglove” designed by New York-based jeweler Lorraine Schwartz. The alter-ego came to light when Beyonce was recording her 2003 hit “Crazy In Love” and has been developing ever since in the mind of the singer. Interestingly, the lyrics for the Sasha Fierce disc are not included with the record. Curious listeners can check out http://www.beyonceonline.com to see what she’s hiding.
Sasha Fierce carries on with more songs that are incontestably club-ready but remarkably risk-free. “Radio” finds Beyonce channeling a techno goddess, belting out a rather soft vocal pattern over club beats and a foamy synthesizer. “Diva” takes a hip-hop approach and uses 808 bass to rattle trunks and subs around the world.
It isn’t until the last track that Beyonce really finds the unchecked sexuality that the alter-ego is supposed to represent. “Video Phone” plays to many a fantasy, riding over an eerie, slinky backdrop that Trent Reznor would be proud of. Punched by moans and sliced beats, the cut is delicious in its sensuality and mischief.
I Am…Sasha Fierce is a conceptual album, no doubt about it, but it really doesn’t need to be. Beyonce never really hits the edge with Sasha Fierce until it’s too late and is much, much stronger on the first disc. The album lacks the range it needs to be a double album and, truthfully, there just aren’t enough songs to warrant the addition of another CD.