A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my love/hate relationship with Beyoncé. In a nutshell, I generally love her singles but hate her albums. Songs like "Crazy In Love", "Naughty Girl" and "Irreplaceable" are modern pop classics, while the remixes of "Ring The Alarm", "Green Light" and "Beautiful Liar" deservedly transformed Solange's less fabulous sister into the queen of dancefloor. However, their parent albums leave a lot to be desired. "Dangerously In Love" was more uneven than Jewel's teeth and "B'Day" truly scraped the bottom of the barrel. With the release of "If I Were A Boy" and "Single Ladies", the pattern looked set to continue - two brilliant lead singles and what I assumed would be a dire album. I was wrong. "I Am... Sasha Fierce" is a huge leap forward for Beyoncé. The album is rich in new ideas and serves up an impressive batch of beautifully constructed pop songs that cover the entire music spectrum from synth soaked dance anthems, right through to gritty urban jams and exquisitely performed ballads. And yet, "I Am... Sasha Fierce" still has its flaws.
Splitting Beyoncé's personality in half over two discs just doesn't work. It's a cute concept but neither side is strong enough to stand alone. The "Beyoncé" disc boasts some truly outstanding tracks but as a whole, it occasionally veers a little too close to the boring wasteland of mid-tempo balladry currently occupied by Leona Lewis. The "Sasha Fierce" disc, on the other hand, is a perhaps a little too adventurous. Bouncy club anthems don't sit well next to sparse urban jams. It all just seems a little too forced. I really believe Beyoncé needs to embrace her inner Sasha Fierce and work on developing some kind of Jekyll/Hyde relationship for her next album. If she gets it right, we're in for something extraordinary. In the meantime, I've decided to do the work for her. For this review I've picked out the best songs from both discs to make one killer Beyoncé/Fierce hybrid album. This is how "I Am... Sasha Fierce" plays on my Ipod:
If I Were A Boy - 10/10
I love everything about this song. Written by (and apparently stolen from) aspiring diva BC Jean and produced by Toby Gad (the man behind Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry"), "If I Were A Boy" represents a radical departure for Beyoncé. Her usual sound has been pared right back to put the focus on her formidable voice and the result is one of 2008's best pop tracks. It's raw, heartfelt and very catchy. Most of all, "If I Were A Boy" demonstrates Beyoncé's amazing versatility. Beyoncé can do Rihanna style urban dance but I seriously doubt her rival has the range to pull off this kind of material. Oh and the video is really hot too. Beyoncé can frisk me anytime!
Sweet Dreams - 9/10
Opening with a bassline dragged kicking and screaming from the 80s before a chorus of synths herald a more modern sound, "Sweet Dreams" is one of the album's absolute highlights. This anthem represents everything that's good about R'n'B in 2008 - it expertly cloaks pop and dance elements with the slightest sheen of urban credibility. If you like Chris Brown's "Forever" or Rihanna's "Disturbia", then you should download this. I particularly love the chorus and the vocal hooks. Interestingly, one of the writers is Wayne Wilkins, who worked with Kylie on "Body Language". Most of his songs were scrapped (ie. "My Image Unlimited") but "Slo Motion" made the cut (in Australia anyway) and remains one of my favourites from that dire era.
Halo - 10/10
Written and produced by OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder (the cunt responsible for Leona's "Bleeding Love"), "Halo" is my favourite song on "I Am... Sasha Fierce". I love how incredibly over the top it is. This is Beyoncé's big diva moment and she really lets loose. The slightly hysterical vocal delivery and incredibly clichéd lyrics should detract from the track but I can't help but be swept away by the sentimentality. I'm also completely in awe of the veritable orchestra of synths that accompany the chorus. I really hope this is a single because I can only image how tacky the video will be - I'm picturing Beyoncé rolling around on a four poster bed, while semi-clad man angels hover above her. Bring it!
Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) - 8/10
The album's other lead single reminds me a little of Destiny's Child's "Lose My Breath" in that it just sounds like random noise until the fourth or fifth listen when the multitude of hooks start to work their magic. "Single Ladies" isn't The-Dream's finest moment on "I Am... Sasha Fierce" (that would be "Smash Into You") but this percussion heavy slut jam is still fresh, fierce and fabulous. I just wish there were some club remixes. What's going on Sony?
Disappear - 7/10
Amanda Ghost has a lot to answer for. Apart from writing "You're Beautiful" with James Blunt, she was also excreted "Tattoo" for Jordin Sparks. Thankfully, she redeems herself somewhat with "Disappear" - one of the most understated and lovely songs on "I Am... Sasha Fierce". The production is achingly delicate and Beyoncé's vocals have rarely been this restrained. "Disappear" takes a couple of listens to appreciate but I vastly prefer it to the more traditional ballads on the album. This is very pleasant filler.
Ego - 8/10
"It's too big, it's too wide, it's too strong, it won't fit". Uh huh. Since when is 'ego' code for MONSTER COCK? Beyoncé just needs to exercise her pelvic floor and be generous with the lube but I digress. Seriously, I actually blushed the first time I heard this trash. "Ego" is a misogynst's wet dream and probably puts feminism back 20 years but it's undeniably catchy and the sleaze is reminiscent of my icon Millie Jackson. I love the bouncy beats and the piano outro is a very nice touch. Strike this up as Beyoncé's "Vibe On"!
Hello - 7/10
"Hello" is a fairly straight forward mid-tempo ballad that is saved from mediocrity by one hell of a chorus. I love the phrasing - "You had me at hell-owww, hell-owww, hell-oooo-ooowww". While slightly out of place on the "Sasha Fierce" disc, this outshines many of the ballads on disc 1 for the simple fact that Beyoncé gets her teeth stuck into the lyrics and sings her heart out. I appreciate the restraint shown on tracks like "Disappear" and "Smash Into You" but it becomes boring after a while. Sparse, undercooked ballads are for second rate divas with paper thin voices like Dido and Annie - not for someone with Beyoncé's pipes.
Smash Into You - 9/10
This is one of the most beautiful songs of 2008. The lyrics are simple but heartfelt, while the almost acoustic production puts the focus squarely on Beyoncé's voice. Taking Sasha out of her urban comfort zone is an inspired decision. The soft guitars blend perfectly with her soulful voice to create something quite remarkable. The-Dream well and truly earned his fee with gem.
Radio - 9/10
The team behind "Sweet Dreams" deliver another serving of fabulous urban dance with "Radio". The synths are back, as are the crazy vocal hooks ("woah, oh, oh, oh") and killer chorus. I also love the kooky lyrics ("When I get into my car and turn it up-up, I hear vibrations all up in my trunk-trunk") and Beyoncé's slightly demented vocal delivery. I really wish Beyoncé would pursue this sound further because it suits her. She takes on Rihanna at her own games and makes the Bahamian forehead look like an amateur.
Why Don't You Love Me - 8.5/10
Leave it to Solange to bring the funk to "I Am... Sasha Fierce"! Beyoncé needs to beg my Sol-Angel to write her a whole album. Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if "Why Don't You Love Me" was a reject from Solange's album. This deliciously retro anthem would sound perfect between "I Decided" and "Sandcastle Disco". The lyrics are fun, the spoken intro is fierce ("You must have bumped your head!") and the production is wonderfully playful. I can't believe this upbeat gem was wasted as an iTunes bonus track. If you haven't heard "Why Don't You Love Me" yet, check it out here.
That's Why You're Beautiful - 7/10
"That's Why You're Beautiful" is one of the real growers on the album. I ignored it the first listens but eventually found myself coming back to it. I love Beyoncé's voice against the rocky guitars, particularly when she starts wailing towards the end. It's very low key and quite simple but I kind of like ending the album with one of the more mysterious tracks.
My Suggested Bonus Track - If You Need More Beyoncé
Save The Hero - 7/10
Penned by upcoming diva Ali Tamposi, "Save The Hero" was relegated to being an iTunes bonus track but I find it kind of majestic. The production is experimental by Beyoncé's standards and the peculiar lyrics bring to mind images of manga warriors! This is worth hunting down if you like Beyoncé in ballad mode. You can listen to the song here.
Deleted Tracks - I've Dumped These Stinkers
Ave Maria - 5/10
The single most disappointing thing about "I Am... Sasha Fierce" is how lame the Stargate produced tracks are. As a big fan of the Norwegian duo, I was expecting big things from their collaboration with Beyoncé but this ranks as one of the most boring songs on the album. "Ave Maria" features a beautiful vocal performance but it's basically a cure for insomnia. I blame Amanda Ghost.
Broken-Hearted Girl - 5.5/10
Who would have thought that Stargate and Babyface would come up with something so utterly mediocre? It's not awful, it's just dated and very dull. Unfortunately, I have a terrible feeling this might be a future single. It's just inspid enough to appeal to US radio.
Satellites - 6/10
Another Amanda Ghost track. It's not that disimilar to "Disappear" in its softness and simplicity but it goes nowhere and it very subtlely rips off Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine", which annoys me every time I hear it. Listen to September's "Satellites" instead.
Diva - 1/10
Whoever decided to turn Beyoncé into Trina needs to be shot. An utter embarrassment.
Video Phone - 3/10
Another desperate grab for urban credibility. I actually quite like the production on this but the lyrics are appalling and the groaning gets tiresome after a while. They also seem to have forgotten the chorus. Woops.
Scared of Lonely - 5/10
I think Solange was inspired by operation "Love Traffic" with this tiresome mid-tempo ballad. I hope Beyoncé cut off her allowance after hearing the finished version of "Scared Of Lonely". Again, it's not awful but Brandy and Monica have been churning out shit like this for the past decade. The Darkchild production injects a bit of life into proceedings but it's ultimately a failed exercise.