A two-disc concept album charting the sense of detachment Beyonce Knowles feels between her stage presence and the “real her”? The record industry must really be in turmoil for Sony to have let her get away with releasing this — everyone knows double albums tank, particularly when pushed by performers better known for brainless three-minute bootyshakin’ radio pleasers.
First disc “I am . . . ” (representing the soul-bearing, “real” Beyonce) opens with the mildly affecting “If I Were a Boy,” a somber ode to the brutish and brazen male behaviors our Lady B has come to know in a fiercely patriarchal music industry. Despite its lyrics occasionally missing the mark (“If I were a boy/I’d drink beer with the guys” — big deal), by its closing moments it sets a confessional tone that, along with Beyonce’s beautiful vocal dexterity, carries the album’s first side to its close with a pleasing sense of grace.
In fact, so successful is “I am . . . ” that it serves to completely undermine “Sasha Fierce,” the feisty, flamboyant version of Beyonce that goes to the MTV awards and stars in makeup ads. The likes of “Radio” and “Diva” seem so superficial in comparison with what we’ve just heard on disc one that their overt contrivance is almost offensive. Beyonce doesn’t need the trappings of bling: She does things better when she’s just being herself.
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