Review Summary: Jekyll and Hyde pop.
Pop music, in its current shape, has evolved drastically since the turn of the century, in particular for females. It’s simply not just about the Britneys and Christinas anymore- a quick glance at any of the chart-busting ladies this year alone reflects just how wide the spectrum of pop music can be. You have your big-voice pop divas (Leona Lewis), guitar girls (Katy Perry), stylish urban girls (Jordin Sparks), sweet singer-songwriters (Sara Bareilles), ladies that are part of the “neo-soul” movement (Duffy)…the list goes on.
Since shedding the excess weight that was Destiny’s Child, Beyonce Knowles has evolved into two very distinct species of popstar, each scoring significant hits. The first is Beyonce’s inner diva, belting out those quasi-poignant r-&-b ballads as if her proverbial ‘phat cash’ were about to disappear- see “Me, Myself and I” from 2003’s Dangerously in Love
and “Irreplaceable” from 2006’s B-Day
for examples of these. The second is Beyonce’s inner demon, waiting to pounce on that man, hit up that club/party/etc and back herself up with truckloads of funk and sass. Examples, in chronological order, include “Crazy in Love”, “Naughty Girl” and “Déja Vu”. With proven successes in both fields, one could completely understand Knowles’ wishes to continue to explore each. What has resulted, however, few could have expected.
I Am… Sasha Fierce
is a double EP (or a single record over two discs, whatever your preference). Each disc represents both sides of the aforementioned schism of the Beyonce sound- I Am
being the ballad territory, whilst Sasha Fierce
presents the more upbeat, danceable tracks. As the Foo Fighters release In Your Honour
, as well as basically every double release in musical history goes to show, this is a risk not worth taking, more often than not resulting in decidedly hit and miss affairs. Unsurprisingly, I Am… Sasha Fierce
is no exception- an inconsistent, lopsided and ill-conceived mess of overly glossy production, inconsistency on both sides of the music and blatant disregard of potential when it emerges.
Our focus shifts initially towards the I Am…
disc. This is decidedly thorny territory for Knowles, who is prone to phoned-in, emotionless wailing over an elementary snap beat if her discography is anything to go by. The six tracks present on the disc, at the very least, some evidence of attempts to branch out from such moulds and ideals. Hell, it even works sometimes- track two, “Halo”, has plenty of hit potential; boasting a formidable vocal delivery from the leading lady, and backed just as well by an anthemia stomp-clap and synthesizer undercurrent that meld the song’s elements together very impressively. Sure, it’s the handiwork of an established hitmaker (the dude who gave us “Bleeding Love”), and it certainly could have been sung by any r & b popstar (it was, in fact, originally intended for “Bleeding Love’ singer Leona Lewis). Still, Knowles brings enough character and depth to save it from facelessness.
The same, sadly, can’t really said for the rest of I Am…
“If I Were A Boy” features a nice enough guitar line, but seems to ride along the same chords over and over, even when the energy of the song is intended to lift. Lyrically, it also suffers; it seems there is no real point to be made aside from the fact Beyonce would “drink beer with the guys and chase after girls” were she to swap around the chromosomes. Meanwhile, “Ave Maria” borrows far too much from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (vocal melodies, arpeggios and time signature to name a few) to give the song any firm identity on its own, whilst “Disappear” could well be the most dull four-and-a-half minutes that Knowles has ever put her name to. You can’t deny the vocal abilities here for a second. However, you can most certainly deny sustaining a consistent flow of interest in I Am…
from start to finish.
Just when all hope seems lost, a siren’s call of syncopated clicks, electronic claps and a funk-infused, heavily percussive beat proudly and excitedly announces the arrival of the next Beyonce- Sasha Fierce
. “ALL the single ladies! Put your hands up!”, she demands. Welcome to “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”, the sparkling new crown diamond in Knowles’ tiara. The unremitting, addictive and unashamedly fantastic beat continues as Beyonce leads a sassy, confident, post-feminist march for man-less ladies worldwide- somewhat ironic when it’s being addressed from a happily married woman’s perspective, but let’s just say it’s Fierce talking here.
has already trumped I Am…
in three minutes. Unfortunately, the other four songs can’t come close to the benchmark- but by God, they give it their best shot. On a first time listen, chances are you won’t know what to make of “Diva”- a bassy club beat, chipmunked vocal samples and overdubs aplenty make up the track’s foundations, as Knowles presents her someone questionable thesis: “Diva is a female version of a hustler!”. Rummaging for your copy of Divas Live
, you will certainly find it difficult to imagine any of the women present as female hustlers. Regardless, “Diva” slowly but surely evolves into an unexpectedly addictive number. Knowles is vocally all over the place, presenting breathy drawls, robotic shouts and some of her calling-card wails. It makes for one hell of a catchy listen, all one needs to do is give it a chance.
Another highlight comes in the form of “Sweet Dreams”. Whilst it is sadly not a Eurythmics cover, it is still a hook-laden synthpop utopia headed straight for the clubs. “You could be a sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare”, Beyonce warns as chirpy keyboards materialise. “Either way, I don’t wanna wake up”.
Aside from a weak link in the god-awful “Video Phone” (a song you actually have to hear to truly comprehend just how bad it is), Sasha Fierce
is a collection of some rather good tracks. It seems simply criminal that the disc ends so abruptly, as it has all the features of platinum-selling material as an entire LP if songs of this quality could continue.
I Am… Sasha Fierce
is a difficult record to properly summarise. There’s too much going for it, particularly on the second disc, to deem it a failure. Conversely, there’s too much filler and badly-executed ideas, particularly on the first disc, to deem it a success. I Am… Sasha Fierce
is neither here nor there- and for a pop superstar, that’s just not good enough.