It turns out that even Beyonce Knowles needs a little help from an imaginary friend – or as is her case, help from her alter ego, Sasha Fierce. In her version of a Dr Jekyll-Mr Hyde, the R&B singer has decided to split herself in her new album, I Am… Sasha Fierce, into the diva-like, Barbra Streisand-Karen Carpenter mix of Beyonce, and the butt-shaking, ‘Hit-the-high-notes-girl!’ Sasha.
Now that’s a better business model than, say, Amy Winehouse’s sober Amy-drunk Amy creative partition. But to divvy up 16 songs into two albums according to soulful R&B ballads and mojo-driven R&B power pop…?
Let’s start with the gentle CD 1. The much in-demand ‘If I were a boy’ has the lady playing the nuanced feminist, wondering what it would be if she was allowed all those things that a gent is allowed and can ‘get away with’. In ‘Halo,’ we hear the successor of Whitney Houston sing her soulful ballad in the times of Rihanna. Just to underline the fact that this is the ‘New Beyonce’ side that rides on melody, tasteful and moving arrangements, she’s also done her Nana Mouskouri-tinged ‘Ave Maria’. In ‘Smash into you’, you actually marvel at Beyonce’s voice – first time, to be honest, I swung my attention from elsewhere to her vocal range.
Swivel to the CD 2 and we’re in the bopping Beyonce territory that we’re more familiar with – or, as she has it, her ‘Sasha Fierce’ side. This section of the album can get us standing up and moving. The ‘opening number’ is a funky-fun number – whatever that means, but you get the drift. ‘Diva’ is a finger-clickin’, KFC-wing oil-dripping addictive, staccato-driven sound that brings back memories of when I used to occasionally behave like Bobby Brown at the fringes of a dance floor.
The rest of the numbers are standards, but nothing to write home in a column about. What one does get to realise is Beyonce’s versatility and range of voice – an underrated devise perhaps these days where the new ‘more’ is ‘much more’.
This ‘double’ album may have worked better if it wasn’t compartmentalised. For one, some of the soulful stuff could have done with a horomonally-driven number following. In the 2008 movie, Cadillac Records, Beyonce played the role of blues, soul, gospel, R&B and jazz queen Etta James, the original Janis Joplin. If she had picked up a lesson playing Etta, it would have been this: when grace and passion make a good mix, we get to a great singer. Let the honey-voiced Ms Knowles ruminate on that now.