There’s no doubt that Beyoncé is a superstar. During the last 11 years in the spotlight, she’s sold over 100 million albums as the lead singer and driving force behind Destiny’s Child, the best-selling female group of all time, and released two multi-platinum albums of her own as a solo artist. Let’s not forget about the 10 Grammys she’s racked up.
Even without the mention of her movie success, her achievements are plainly stellar. But Beyoncé is done being just another superstar–she’s on a mission to become iconic. Enter I Am…Sasha Fierce, her follow-up to 2006’s celebration of her 25th birthday B’Day.
The standard edition of the album is being released simultaneously with a deluxe edition that includes five extra songs–and here is where the problem lies. Since deluxe editions are mostly viewed as novelties for the hardcore fans, the general buying public will undoubtedly go for the standard edition and as a whole, it leaves much to be desired from an artist with the potential to breakthrough that barrier between mega-pop star and iconic figure.
The 11-track standard album is a 2-CD set broken into two parts: “I Am,” Beyoncé’s walk on the Adult Contemporary side featuring six mellow, piano or acoustic guitar driven songs, laden with lyrics about broken hearts or passionate love she compares to being as timeless as Barbara Streisand’s early works. Then there’s the more uptempo offering by Bey’s alter-ego “Sasha Fierce” with songs that go from straight hip-hop to euro-pop, a sound that is more familiar to Beyoncé’s core fanbase.
The placement of all of the acoustic songs on one disc makes it easy to dismiss the songs as hum-drum ballads that all sound the same. It takes a few listens to differentiate each song’s qualities from the other. And while none of the songs are bad, they’re all a bit unremarkable in their production, though Beyoncé’s vocals shine brightly. The strongest points on the I Am side comes from “Halo,” an enticing track expressing the joys of finding the perfect partner. The passionate repetitions of “I can see your halo” on the chorus make it the perfect follow-up to the first single from this side, the gender-role reversing “f I Were A Boy.” “Disappear” is another stand out, sounding a bit like Beyoncé meets Coldplay, meets U2. “Ave Maria” is a romantic love story with simple, yet strong vocals from the megastar, proving she doesn’t need to rely on her signature licks and runs to get through a song. It’s the perfect wedding song.
The Sasha Fierce side suffers greatly from the lack of extra songs. Sasha is given so little room to spread her wings it’s almost a shame. The songs left off would definitely help the quality of this side, though, it’s doubtful if it would make it overall great. The euro-pop sound has been done to death this year, so an artist like Beyoncé should be able to take it to a new level. She doesn’t. “Radio” is sloppy and overproduced. “Sweet Dreams,” which was leaked earlier in the year as the demo “Beautiful Nightmare,” finds Bey collaborating with the producers who helmed most of her former bandmate Michelle Williams‘ third album to mediocre at best results. The hip hop influenced songs aren’t much better. “Diva,” a blatant rip off of Lil Wayne’s “A Milli,” tries to be a female empowerment anthem with Bey proclaiming “A diva is a female version of a hustler,” but it mostly comes off as a brash, almost comical throw away filler. The bright spots comes from first single “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” and the sexy “Video Phone” where Bey sings with a slight Caribbean lilt on the verses. It comes too late to save the album.
Beyoncé will win points for her progress as a vocalist. This is truly the best she’s ever sounded. Her voice is strong, confident, and controlled throughout the entire album. She’ll also win points for realizing booty shaking anthems grow old after a while. But when you’re comparing your music to the likes of Barbara Streisand and entering it as your bid to icon status, then you should really deliver an album that can live up to the hype–from start to finish. Perhaps iconic status is still one more album away.