rfectly suited for an R&B superstar. Smooth, unique and rhythmic, it has helped Beyoncé Knowles sell over seven million records as a solo artist and burn up the charts with scalding-hot singles like “Crazy in Love” and “Irreplaceable.”
But, somehow, she’s not satisfied with the name. Hence “I Am. Sasha Fierce,” which gives a different name to Beyoncé’s sexy and glamorous alter ego. Apparently, “Beyoncé” just wasn’t sexy or glamorous enough.
Separated into two short discs, the “Sasha Fierce” half of the release promises to be Beyoncé’s most wild and over-the-top work to date, while “I Am.” strives to be her most genuine and intimate.
“I Am.” begins with “If I Were a Boy,” a song that simmers to slow jam perfection with hand claps and smooth guitar. The lyrics find Beyoncé aspiring to “drink beer with the guys,” and while they aren’t exactly the most complex critique of gender ideology, she delivers them with scathing vigor.
The only problem is that they cover the same ground as last year’s “Like a Boy” by Ciara.
Elsewhere on the first disc, Beyoncé embraces Christian imagery and an irresistible piano riff on “Halo.” Then she puts a new twist on Charles Gounod’s ubiquitous aria, “Ave Maria.”
Songs like these make “I Am.” a pleasant listen, but with all of the ballads bunched together on one disc, they’ll leave you begging for something to break the monotony of down-tempo tunes.
“Sasha Fierce” delivers just that with “Radio,” in which Beyoncé — gushing with charm, stuttering with sass — announces “I think I’m in love with my radio” over a synth line that’s so addictive it should be illegal.
Unfortunately, Beyoncé’s alter ego isn’t always so captivating. “Videophone” is actually a song about a videophone and “Diva” finds Sasha Fierce informing us that “a diva is a female version of a hustler” ad nauseam.
Worse still, the hook on the latter track already got stale this summer when it was Lil’ Wayne’s “A Milli.”
Beyoncé should be the vanguard of R&B, but instead she’s recycling the hits of other artists — or even herself. If lines like “all the single ladies / now put your hands up” sound familiar, it’s because they’re barely different than “all my independent women / throw your hands up at me” from her days in Destiny’s Child.
But what “I Am. Sasha Fierce” lacks in originality, Beyoncé makes up for with sheer force of will. Through trite lyrics and uninspired production, her vocal charisma never fails to shines through.
Make no mistake: Beyoncé Knowles is still the queen of contemporary R&B. She’s just saving the coronation for her next album.
Staff writer Nick Scheidies can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org