Who is Sasha Fierce? More importantly, who is Beyonce Knowles-Carter? Music listeners worldwide are more interested in the latter; more curious about divulging into the mind and psyche of Beyonce, the newly married, former lead singer of super girl group Destiny's Child.
But with her third solo album, widely publicized as her most personal project to date, does Beyonce really give insight into what life is like behind the celebrity trappings?
I Am...Sasha Fierce is exactly what was forecasted: a disjointed package of two sounds and ambiences. In what is described as an album illustrating two sides of the vocal powerhouse diva's persona: Beyonce', the artists vulnerable, emotional (sincere) side, and alter ego Sasha Fierce, the domineering, attention capturing diva; the two disc set straddles current music trends of pop on the former, and edgy, street-wise R&B/dance on the latter.
First disc, entitled, I Am, is an adventure in pop sounds and phrasings for the most part. In the grand scheme of this conceptual project, I Am is more rewarding and convincing.
Listening to the twenty-seven-year-old sing about her lover's angelic qualities on "Halo" and pondering her actions as the opposite sex on "If I Were A Boy" is actually a bit refreshing. An abundance of acoustic elements (piano, guitar) and soaring restrained vocals reveal a distinctively new approach to music for the Houston native, famous for cramming more syllables and words into a single breath than her other female counterparts.
Even here, however, the attempts to incite a certain intimacy are futile. Most notably is "Ave Maria", which may have been a decent song without the interpolation of the operatic standard into what is an overly ambitious, under-executed filler track. Conclusively, there is no doubt Mrs. Knowles-Carter has the chords to sing just about anything, and I Am, while pleasant, is almost too easy.
Thankfully, disc two, Sasha Fierce, finds Beyonce channeling her familiar, sure-footed sexiness. It's inevitable that most will skip through a couple of tracks on disc one before they trade it in for Fierce.
With alter-ego in full effect, "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" immediately signals the change of pace and prepares listeners to break out in a sweat. "Single Ladies" is about as synonymous with sophomore album single "Get Me Bodied" as any song could be without being an exact carbon copy. Down to the snappy hand claps and steady foot stomping beat ---both songs even have accompanying dance routines---"Single Ladies" may sound eerily familiar, but it is among Bey's catchiest songs to date.
"Radio" and "Sweet Dreams" are clear attempts to capitalize on the techno craze sweeping airplay as of late. "Radio" finds the singer stepping into Rihanna territory, relying on overemphasis of vowels 'o' and 'a' while in the midst of lyrics that sound like they were written for a teenager . On the other hand, Beyonce owns "Sweet Dreams", embodying the song's irony in her vocal delivery against the bass-thumping, rousing synths and sparkling piano. "Dreams", a clear gem, was unfortunately leaked to radio and dance floors in the early part of 2008.
After listening to I Am...Sasha Fierce, one will realize that Beyonce's work with Destiny's Child on their farewell album, Destiny Fulfilled, is the closest we have gotten (or may ever get) to calling an album by Sasha Fierce herself, personal and probing.
Speaking of the Destiny Fulfilled album, the final track on second disc Fierce, "Video Phone", borrows a lot from "Soldier" off of the DC3 project. Hustlers swagger and pants sagging low are the catalysts for Beyonce to offer a private "video phone" sex tape. "Video Phone" is rather frank.
We appreciate the notion of trying to present a candid, stripped down Beyonce to the world through music, but this is not it. There are interesting surprises, but this double-disc album package is a lot less compelling than it could have been. Given a recording process that stretched over a year, and a goldmine of seventy songs from which these eleven were selected, it's hard to determine whether the album's concept diminished the intended introspective feel or if the concept saved the songs from the project's lapse in cohesiveness.
Beyonce's voice is there. She sings effortlessly. A few good songs are there. Top 40 radio will eat up the catch phrases. But where is the evidence of the singer turned actress and wife blossoming into womanhood and relishing in the bliss of married life?
If Beyonce fights the inevitable, at worst she could end up like Usher; playing catch up by the time she is thirty. If she reinvents herself, she may never need to live her personal life on stage. Instead she can follow in the footsteps of Madonna or Tina Turner and "Sasha" all the way into her fifties and sixties.
3*** stars out of 5