Here we go with another Beyoncé album. I was a little apprehensive about this one because B'day got so much acclaim; it's hard to follow up that type of success. If B'day shot her into the stratosphere, I Am... Sasha Fierce definitely brought her back to earth. It's divided into two discs, representing two personas. A cool enogh concept, but concept albums are a hard sell.
The more vulnerable persona starts out with the single "If I Were a Boy." I’m not a huge fan of slow songs (it's gonna be a long album), but it's a somewhat original take on the don’t-take-me-for-granted-type song. Toby Glad (whose ad I once saw on Craig’s List looking for an unpaid intern to pitch his songs… he wrote Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry”) and pop rock singer Britney Carlson get snaps for writing this. It seems that she listened to all the critics who have no appreciation for the tradition of soul, gospel, blues, jazz, and other forms of music that arose from Southern black roots accused her of 'oversinging' and reigned in the elaborate runs that she's so well known for.
The next song, "Halo" (not to be confused on my iPod with "Halo" by the Pussycat Dolls), brings the emotion that I look for in a slow song, and we can thank producer and lead singer of One Republic Ryan Tedder for that. Beyoncé shows us her whole range, dipping down to the lowest of her notes (a C#3... most choral bass parts play in this territory... much more than your daily requirement of ledger lines), which is a welcome contrast to the familiar belt that comes later. Apparently this song was originally intended for Leona Lewis (who, frankly, would have done better with the falsetto notes at the end).
The track that follows can “Disappear" from the album as far as I’m concerned. It adds variety to the pacing of the slow part of the album, but I could do without this ultra-laid-back track.
I always said the best pop music comes out of Sweden. Well, songwriters/producers Stargate (“So Sick” by Ne-yo; “Irreplaceable” by Beyonce) are close enough (Norway). Unfortunately, they couldn't work their magic on “Broken-Hearted Girl”. The amazing thing about this song is that despite its being uninteresting, I could see it being one of the later singles on the album. It has a radio-ready sound.
After these two duds, I was quite curious to see what Beyoncé would do with“Ave Maria”. It seems to be a religious song disguised as a love song. It gets a little too classical at the end, and I’m not comfortable with Beyoncé in her head voice. It’s not an amazing track, but the more interesting of the two Stargate contributions.
“Smash into You” is a good b-side track. Producer Chris “Tricky” Stewart (“Me against the Music” by Britney/Madonna, “Umbrella” by Rhianna, and for you southern-rap heads “Who Dat” by JT Money) creates a sound that Céline Dion timeless.
Of course, she had to have a slow, acoustic, breathy song. "Satellites" is a beautiful track, but I had trouble paying attention to it. Eventually I figured out that it was because it has no percussion (which is part of the beauty of the song; I’m just not the target demo).
“That’s Why Your Beautiful” brings a bit of a country/rock feel to the album and closes out the intimate part of the album. However, the deluxe edition adds “Save the Hero", a graceful song that starts out with strings and piano before bringing in electric guitar and heavy kick-drum percussion to build tension. It has a great message, and I’d say it’s the best best composed track on the album (though not my favorite).
Now that the soft shit is out of the way, we get to toss our hair and wooorrrrrrrrrk! Chris “Tricky” Stewart provides an appropriately sparse yet driving instrumental for "Single Ladies" (which happens to be a single! Haha!). It’s the perfect entrance music for Sasha.
“Radio”brings a touch of high-energy electronica. It's concept is reminiscent of “I Am Music” by Timbaland. The major flaw with this song is that it seems like B is trying too hard to convey too many vocal personas in this song. It sounds like the producer is thinking, that sounded a lot cooler in my head. It may be a better idea to pull off with a group.
My favorite thing about "Diva" is that this song is penned by a man. The same man who wrote “Buttons” for the Pussycat Dolls, “Goodies” by Ciara, “Check on It” by Beyoncé, half of the songs we did the Uh Oh to on B’day... I’m thinking, How he doin’! Anyway, Sean Garrett’s words are backed by a Hustlin-by-Rick-Ross-type track from Atlanta producer Shondrae “Bangladesh” Crawford (“What’s Your Fantasy” by Ludacris). The cool thing about this track is that it supports the concept of the album. The bad thing about this song is that it’s not that cleverly written or produced, making it less than engaging out of the context of it's placement on this particular album.
The first good musical performance on the Fierce part of the album comes with “Sweet Dreams”. It has a throwback feel mixed with a touch of pop/electronica. It’s not necessarily catchy, but it’s nice to listen to.
“Video Phone” sounds a bit more like “Diva” than I’d like. We all know southern rap has been popular for the last few years, but it almost seems like the tracks were made with the same formula. However, it is a very sexy song. Unfortunately, this redundancy is where the standard version of the album comes to a close, but the deluxe album adds a few more bonus tracks.
“Hello” is not to be confused with "Halo" (Britney started this trend with putting both "Hot As Ice" and "Break the Ice" on the same album). I love this song! Then again, I do have a triple-meter (1-2-3 instead of 1-2-3-4) fetish. In the context of her recent marriage to Jay-Z, the words seems that much more sincere, saying “You had me at ‘hello.’” With it's slow tempo and sweet lyrics, it seems misplaced on the Fierce part of the album.
This winning streak continues with “Ego". Beyoncé sounds like she’s singing about dick ("It's too big/it's too wide/ it won't fit"), but she’s talking about her (man’s) ego. I wish this song would have been called “It’s Too Big” so that it didn't give away the punch line. It’s a smooth, relaxed track that stands well on its own as well as promotes the Sasha theme of this side of the album. Unfortunately, she does a very egotistical thing that backfires on her. She claims she doesn't need a beat and can sing it over piano, but then she goes into this falsetto part that sounds like she went out the night before and didn't bother to warm up. She really should keep the falsetto to a minimum.
Beyoncé closes the deluxe album with a track that doesn't fit the Fierce persona, “Scared and Lonely”. Nevertheless, it’s nice to listen to. It almost like Elton John collaborated with a hip-hop producer (turns out Darkchild brought these sounds together). While I like this song, there’s something that doesn’t fit about the background vocals.
Honestly, I was worried for Beyoncé ever since B'day came out because I knew she had to follow it up and try to achieve similar success. But then when I heard "Single Ladies", I had hope. Unfortunately, this album doesn't f0llow through, but she took the artsy/concept/I'm-not-just-trying-to-move-units approach, a smart move.
I think what Beyoncé could have done better as executive producer of the album was to change the format. She doesn't have enough Fierce songs to make two balanced halves. I would have suggested intros, (a la "This is a Missy Elliot exclusive" or "Smash on the radio, bet I penned it"). Start the intimate songs out with some spoken or sung variation of "I am" and the Fierce songs with "Sasha" or "Sasha Fierce". She could have mixed up the order of the songs, which would have helped with the pacing. Plus her fans that are obsessed would have one more thing to lip sych while they strike a pose. Not that I know anyone like that.
Overall, I think it's an okay album. If she weren't so gay friendly, I probably would have only downloaded a few tracks as opposed to buying the whole album (but I still think you should... here's why [towards the bottom]).
"Save the Hero"
You obviously already have "Single Ladies"
Check out my review of David Archuleta's album here.