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Music Review

Beyoncé: 'I Am... Sasha Fierce'

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Beyoncé: 'I Am... Sasha Fierce'
Released on Monday, Nov 17 2008

Beyoncé proclaims herself the "number one diva in the game" on one of I Am... Sasha Fierce's more memorable tracks - a point the album's overarching concept seems designed to ram home. Though these 16 songs could have fit onto one disc, Beyoncé's separated them into two distinct sides. I Am... purports to show the woman "underneath all the makeup... underneath all the exciting star drama", whereas Sasha Fierce is apparently the work of her alter ego, a "more sensual, more aggressive, more outspoken, more glamorous" character who sounds curiously like a Vauxhall drag queen. That's right, this is Beyoncé's attempt to prove she's a serious artiste.

The I Am... side, which is supposed to contain the most revealing music of her career, consists entirely of ballads. It's just as one-paced as you'd expect, but thankfully not entirely devoid of variety: 'Disappear' is dream-like and folky, 'Halo' sounds like a muscular hybrid of 'Umbrella' and 'Bleeding Love' and there are hints of soft rock on 'That's Why You're Beautiful'. It's all very accomplished, but the trouble with I Am... is that it doesn't do what it's supposed to. Not unsurprisingly from a woman who won't even nod when asked whether she's married, these songs are as revealing as publicity photos. The most interesting lyrics appear on 'If I Were A Boy', the one song Beyoncé didn't write, and clichéd lines like "I found heaven on earth, you are my first, my last" are all too typical.

Though Beyoncé's obviously playing a character on the Sasha Fierce disc, this actually makes things more interesting. "Sasha" salutes her earning power on 'Diva', sings about how goddamn fabulous she is on 'Ego' and even exposes her kinky side on 'Videophone', telling her fella, "If you likin' this position, you can tape it." Her tunes, which cover the urban pop bases from swaggering hip-hop ('Diva') to Europoppy R&B ('Radio') to classic soul ('Ego'), are big on hooks but low on originality. It's telling that the best song here, a dark(ish) electropop track called 'Sweet Dreams', actually sounds like the cousin of Rihanna's 'Disturbia'.

So while there's plenty to admire about I Am... Sasha Fierce - the songs are universally well-crafted, Beyoncé's singing is better than ever - it's strangely underwhelming for a double album. It's hard to shake the feeling that, having tried something brave with the album's concept, Beyoncé is playing it safe with the music inside. If she wants to stay the "number one diva in the game", she's going to have to start taking a few more risks.


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