Beyonce’s two faces

Beyonce

I Am…Sasha Fierce

The split personality reflected on Beyonce’s “I Am … Sasha Fierce” is more believable as a marketing conceit than as a true reflection of the inner life of the global pop icon.

Songs on disc one of the two-disc set betray a sensitive, wounded persona - Beyonce as wilted flower. On the second disc, under the guise of alter ego Sasha Fierce, the glamorous chanteuse summons a more earthy, sexually liberated identity - dropping g’s, eliding r’s and, in general, sounding streetwise and hard.

Of course, it’s an act.

The 27-year-old performer has spent most of her life inside the bubble of fame, and her elocution is beyond reproach. The question really is: Is it a good act?

The answer is mixed.

“Sweet Dreams” is a gritty slow grind with a salacious bass line interrupted by drum fills and the chant “Turn the lights on.” Beyonce delivers a near parody of a good-girl voice as she sings, “You can be a sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare/ Either way, I don’t wanna wake up from you.”

On the other hand, the Jay-Z-influenced “Diva” comes off as bad soft-core gangster rap. Here, Beyonce channels the gaudy, boastful Sasha Fierce persona as she raps, “I done got so sick and filthy with benjis, I can’t spend it.” She even drops a four-letter word - albeit one that won’t get her tagged with an “explicit” sticker by the chain stores.

Beyonce has always relied on her style and her ability to sell a song as much as her natural aptitude. Yet no act of salesmanship could have saved the dreadful “Hello,” which takes the movie cliche “You had me at hello” as its point of departure. Its slow, pounding piano lines clash with the drums in a headache-inducing sonic mash-up.

Far better is “Single Ladies,” a raise-the-roof track (co-written by Beyonce) designed to get the women out on the dance floor. Beyonce addresses herself to single women everywhere, singing, “If you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring on it” - lending a genuinely defiant, independent voice to a winning high-stepping disco-inspired track that’s the class of the album.

There’s less to commend on the first disc. The songs here are morose and affected. On “If I Were a Boy,” one of the tracks pre-released as a video, Beyonce broods over what male behaviors she would indulge in as a temporary member of the male species, singing, “I’d put myself first/ And make the rules as I go/’Cause I know she’d be faithful/ Waiting for me to come home.”

The musical accompaniment has a spare, cinematic quality that she fills with an expansive voice that occasionally reaches past the singer’s grasp. Similarly, on “Ave Maria,” there are some high notes that probably should have remained a secret between Beyonce and her producers - although it’s to her credit that she didn’t paper over these with a few turns of the dial on the soundboard.

When it was announced a few months back that Beyonce was at work on a new album, it was widely rumored that it would be filled with high-profile guest spots and big-ticket producers. What Beyonce has delivered is a more personal album - one that, for all its flaws, doesn’t hide behind its creator’s celebrity.

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