Beyoncé’s new double album supposedly represents two sides of her personality. The first CD, I Am, is about the person she is “underneath the makeup,” she has said. That’s too bad, because it is so saccharine as to be nearly unlistenable, featuring one barely distinguishable, weepy, synth-fueled ballad after another. There’s “Disappear,” which contains breathily whispered nonsense lyrics like “If I beg and if I cry/Would it change the sky tonight?/Will it give me some light?,” and “If I Were a Boy,” a grammatically correct self-pity anthem. You can probably guess what “Broken-Hearted Girl” is about, although considering Beyoncé’s wedding to Jay-Z earlier this year, one wonders what inspired it. Only “Halo” succeeds as a transcendent piece of power-pop, serving as the disc’s saving grace.
Second CD Sasha Fierce represents “someone else that takes over when it’s time for me to work and when I’m on stage,” Beyoncé claims. It’s the edgy, sassy part of the album. Speaking for women worldwide on “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” she taunts those no-good playas: “If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it.” Burn! Then there’s “Video Phone,” presumably sponsored by Samsung, and “Radio,” in which she summons her inner LL Cool J. The tinny drum machines and hip-hop yodeling are awkward, but at least “Radio” has a pulse.
The lesson from I Am … Sasha Fierce seems to be that Beyoncé’s two personas are in conflict. Maybe she should try being herself.