Beyoncé

I Am ... Sasha Fierce  (Columbia/Music World)

From petulance ("Bills, Bills, Bills") to spite ("Survivor"), a large part of Destiny's Child's appeal was the ability to stamp a singular attitude over every nook and cranny of a four-minute single. So it should come as no surprise that Beyoncé would eventually take up a larger canvas and make a concept record. I Am ... Sasha Fierce is just that: two discs cleanly divided into two moods elaborated through distinct personae.

The first disc is credited to Beyoncé and features a half-dozen soaring ballads. Each song is built around piano, acoustic guitar, and a relatively unadorned voice that approximates a singer-songwriter's intimacy without eschewing the groove. "If I Were a Boy" presents a wholly captivating close-up of masculine/feminine empathy, while "Halo" pulls back on an exalted wide-shot Beyoncé fills with the controlled power of her voice.

Disc two belongs to Sasha Fierce, Beyoncé's plucky club-hopping alter ego. Melody succumbs to 808s and whooshing synths on these five tracks, the most musically coherent being the lead song, "Single Ladies." The percussion-heavy arrangements of the succeeding tracks careen beyond the edge of pop radio. Sasha's sonic assault culminates in the arabesque "Video Phone." After years of churning out discs with an even hits-to-filler ratio, Beyoncé has finally made an album with something to offer beyond its singles.

 
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