I remember a time when artists could produce one album under one name that included both ballads and more uptempo dance numbers. Beyonce though feels this is now an error; and so, a week after Kanye told us he’d invented a new medium of music called pop art (purlease), Beyonce is here to tell us that she is at once Beyonce and also her alter-ego, Sasha Fierce – and she’s produced separate CDs to convey either persona. The first is all floaty clothes, minimal make-up, soft hair and ballads-a-go-go ; the latter prefers striking colours, jagged edges, lashings of hairspray and the sound of now. Trouble is, after a couple of listens we’re finding the two women remarkably similar. So will the real Beyonce please stand up?
First up, there’s Beyonce – you remember her. She prefers old-school lighter-waving stadium numbers in the style of Whitney, Mariah, Leona et al. Plug in a few strings and melancholy chord progressions for the sad songs like Disappear and Broken-Hearted Girl; turn up the piano and gospel overtones for the more positive tracks like the Ryan ‘Bleeding Love‘ Tedder-penned Halo and Smash Into You. First single If I Were A Boy retains its class among this crop, which stutter into life at times but can also feel a tad aimless and laboured. There’s no doubt that by the end, you’ll be longing for the old Beyonce who was crazy in love and survived at all costs.
Enter Sasha Fierce. Gold is her favourite colour, she’s best mates with every DJ in town and she’s in love with her radio, make no mistake. Where Beyonce has no yearning to embrace the urban sound of 2008, Sasha is all over it. The fabulous first track Single Ladies kicks things off with a bang, all sass, pomp and hip-wriggling: “If you like it then you should have put a ring on it,” warbles a strident Sasha. Put simply, you wouldn’t mess with her. She carries on in the same vein, with the Eurotrance Ciara-alike number Radio along with the swaggering and Britney-mimicking Diva. But then Sasha seems to run out of steam halfway through her CD – perhaps it was all that jiggying on Single Ladies – and so Beyonce picks up the sass, singing with heart on the epic Hello and whipping up a fine rhythm on Ego.
But here’s the thing: at 16 songs, this album is flabby. Beyonce could have just recorded them all under, for argument’s sake, the name Beyonce and mixed up the styles. We get that the whole alter-ego thing is a way to spin some interest in her new album, but how about letting the music do that? This is not a dire album, it’s just that by splitting it in two, we reckon Sasha romps to an easy win over her mistress – and then what becomes of Beyonce? Ms Knowles just needs to face up to the fact that with Rihanna, Leona, Estelle et al all producing top-selling albums of late, there’s more competition out there. She shouldn’t run from that by splitting in two though – she should embrace it and fuse together her not inconsiderable talents.
Reviewed in November 2008