Sunday, December 21, 2008

Beyoncé: I Am... Sasha Fierce

BeyoncéI'm going to forego any jokes about split personality disorder in reference to Beyoncé's new album as not to upset half of the people out there with the affliction. Well, wait... oops. However, I will split this review into two parts accordingly. Marketing gimmick or not, there is an inescapable division within the concept of this release.

I Am...

"If I Were A Boy" kicks off Beyoncé's half of the album with an open-hearted role-play fitting her in the shoes of an increasingly distant lover. In the verses she explores the vantage point of her counterpart in various scenarios, making choices as a supposedly wiser consciousness. Ms Knowles reaffirms her vocal prowess as if battling detractors, effortlessly moving from near whispers to uncompromised belting across the breadth of her range.

"Halo" and "Disappear" take barely innovative approaches to the mainstream tunes heard on popular radio. Whether it be a subtle removal of superfluous synthesizers or the addition of acoustic guitar accompaniment, the focus is clearly on delivering the 'Beyoncé: singer-songwriter' persona. Though her stories/songs fall short of compelling, they will still entertain those hungry for anything from Queen B. As well, "Broken-Hearted Girl," with it's trudging piano and synthesized drums, will no doubt become the anthem of romantically abandoned adolescents across America and abroad.

The album returns to task with "Ave Maria". In it the Houston native mixes the contemporary and the classical, weaving the third song of Schubert's "Ellens dritter Gesang" (better known as "Ave Maria") with an original ballad. From there Beyoncé channels her indie rock side for "Smash Into You" and "Satellites." She seems more comfortable on these tracks than the previous mid-tempo numbers which sound like Rihanna reject songs; fitting since some feel that way inversely about Rihanna's music in general.

Unfortunately, while I respect Ms Knowles's sincere attempt to create a substantial album and re-establish herself as a singer/songwriter, the first five songs on I Am... blend together slightly too well; the rest, however, could grow on the masses. Regardless of the explorations from track to track, Beyoncé consistently asserts her musical talent as not to be bumped from anyone's list of prominent contemporary vocalists.

Sasha Fierce

I'm sure the second disc, Sasha Fierce, will please the bulk of Beyoncé's fanbase. Supposedly "Sasha" has served as Beyoncé's stage presence since her solo debut, if not before. Thus the throngs of those that usually hate it when their favorite artist tries something new will happily chant along with Ms Fierce.Sasha Fierce

"Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" immediately breaks away from the style of the first disc. Upbeat, club/radio friendly, 'commanding-not-demanding' Sasha tells it like it is and how it's going to be. Her "your loss" attitude is quick to walk out of your life, each step more brazen than the antecedent; in much the same manner the song has strutted its way up and down the charts.

"Radio" idolizes the hit song mentality and falls right in line with the current new-wave resurrection in beat production. A sort of revitalized electronica experiment one might associate with Euro-pop or strobe lights. Stateside though, prominent producers TImbaland, Danjahandz, Kanye West, and Ryan Leslie have been toying with the triplet sixteenth-note pattern in padded synthesizer strings for the better half of the recession.

Moving on, we learn the new definition of "Diva" on the so-titled track. Sasha lays out the guidelines for the female equivalent of a hustler and the her activities. Garnering comparisons to Lil' Wayne's "A Milli," her diva feels perfectly at home over the track's southern-style booming bass and kick drums. While "Sweet Dream" merely flirts with the electronica sound a bit more, "Video Phone" furthers the division in personas as Fierce seduces all with sultry suggestions involving a mobile device--a side of Beyoncé I'm sure few behold.

Overall this disc of the pair is as playful, rebllious and naughty as Sasha Fierce is reported to be. Even if the entire release were on one disc with the same song order, the contrast between the two personas is undeniable. If Beyoncé is Jekyll, then Sasha Fierce is her Hyde in both music and lyric. Understandably, there are things you do on stage that express inner creativity/lunacy and resonate with various audiences but don't necessarily align with how you define yourself. Trust me. Complexity keeps an artist interesting and while I have no doubt that a Sasha Fierce will rise again, I'm definitely curious about the future/sound of Beyoncé.

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