Has Beyoncé Knowles fallen off the top of the pop diva plateau? No. But has it – at the very least – kind of felt like she has? Yes. After popping out hit after hit with her former mega-successful pop-group, Destiny’s Child, at a rate that felt as though she never had more than two weeks off at a time, and producing two quick solo efforts that both brought her just as many No. 1 hits as her previous group did, Mrs. Jay-Z decided to concentrate on other things.
Her personal life was seemingly taking shape, and it was clear a break was needed for her to regroup herself after nearly a decade of what seemed like non-stop work. Then, there are the movies. After landing roles in various films sparingly, she catapulted herself into movie stardom with such music-related pictures as Dreamgirls and her latest, Cadillac Records. So, really, her break from music wasn’t entirely peaceful. She kept busy.
And maybe that’s why her latest, I Am… Sasha Fierce, is a little rough around the edges at times. While it maintains the incredibly successful formula Beyoncé has created over the course of her career – showcase her above-average vocal chops, make the kids dance from time to time, show a soft side with a ballad or two and, as always, keep it real – there are moments where Knowles appears to have mailed it in.
Those moments appear more abundantly on the album’s first disc. Lead by the pop-smart story of “If I Were a Boy”, a song in which the quintessential strong woman wonders aloud how it would feel to turn the tables on her man, the first disc’s ballads become stale too soon, asking why she felt it imperative to make an entire disc featuring this side of her, considering this was never a side that she had as much success with exploring.
Let’s be honest. When you think about the greatest Destiny’s Child hits, chances are your first thoughts are glittered with “Say My Name” or “Survivor”, not the watered-down “Cater to U” or “Emotion”. So, while “If I Were a Boy” is probably the lone highlight of the first disc, it becomes clear that a better idea would have been to take three of her best slower efforts and slap them with the rest of the tracks on her second, more bootylicious disc, and have herself a great single album.
Instead what we have here is a pretty normal take on “Ave Maria”, a piece that has simply been done too many times before to think she would even have a shot at putting her stamp on it. The depressing “Disappear” is probably the only other softer-side track that warrants being kept, as it sees a struggling Beyoncé delicately croon over a beat that is hoppy enough to make you at least consider turning back to the left. But “Satellites” is boring and unnecessary. Its “If we can just put our mind to it, the world could be ours” mentality seems contrived and suggests such a track was used as filler. And the piano-balladry of “Broken-Hearted Girl” is simply more Celine Dion than Aretha Franklin.
So that’s why I Am… Sasha Fierce‘s second disc is a far more compelling trip down dance-lane that reminds us why so many immediately get up whenever they hear her voice blare through the speakers at the club. “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” has a wonderful dancehall feel that competes as one of the best booty-shaking songs this diva has ever been a part of.
And speaking of divas, the Lil Wayne-inspired beat of the cheeky “Diva” adds spunk to this, the effort’s best track, a song that will certainly be any woman’s anthem as she gets ready for a night on the town, minus her cheatin’ no-good boyfriend, of course. Here, Beyoncé shows an impeccable street side that combines with just enough attitude to make it work. And, oh, she even cusses.
“Video Phone” is sexy enough to the point where it almost becomes uncomfortable to think of her listening back to this with her father in the room. And sure, “Radio” might be a bit of a novelty act (yes, we know, you love your music), but it takes her down a road much different than we have ever seen. The drum and bass/techno/house feel of the song is refreshing and might even suggest a more expansive, experimental side of the songstress on her follow-up.
But that’s just it. We don’t see enough of that side on I Am… Sasha Fierce. Was it the extended break? Was it her desire to increase her movie resume? Or was it the notion that she may have more affection for balladry now that her personal life has seemingly settled down? We’ll never know the answer. But what we do know is that I Am… Sasha Fierce had an opportunity to be a great record. Instead, it’s merely good. And for a diva such as Beyoncé, that’s not entirely acceptable.
// Notes from the Road
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