I Am Sasha Fierce

Beyonce’s third album doesn’t start well. Or end well. Or do much well in between. I’m disturbed that nobody else has had the cojones to point this out, but – as well as being a bit shit – her current hit ‘If I Were A Boy’ is deeply offensive and patronising towards the male gender. It protests that all men are the same, prefer drinking beer with the boys to spending quality time with their lady, and do not know what emotions are or what love is. If a male sang similar of the female gender, he would rightly be criticised as misogynistic. Women are not all identical or interchangeable. They are individuals, as are men. Each woman has distinct traits and a unique personality.

Except Beyonce, the Diana Ross to Jay-Z’s Berry Gordy (they SO wish), whose glassy-eyed stare and by-numbers sexual posturings (which are utterly devoid of eroticism) seem to emanate from a corporate fem-bot. Yes, we all fell in love years back with ‘Crazy In Love’, a blazing pop record even if its major hook, with hindsight, was a Chi-Lites sample. She’s done little of merit since, but we’ve generally been so blinded by the passion induced by that one song that we’ve stayed faithful. Underneath the glitzy surface however, there’s a vacuum. Yes, yes, it’s pop music, of course, but good pop music – eight out of ten Girls Aloud singles, Katy Perry’s knowing, actorly winks – plays its cards with wit and cheek, gets you into bed with humour, flash moves, and at least a token stab at being impressive. Beyonce’s current output borders on the arrogant, seeming to believe that if we’re told Beyonce! Is! Mega! enough times we’ll roll over and buy it.

At least she hasn’t named this one, like her last, after a bidet. And it doesn’t rely on “name” producers (though in this case that may be a mistake). Notionally a double album, it’s split into two halves. As a “concept” however, its complexity won’t trouble early Genesis. "I Am…." is purportedly a candid, frank set of ballads. “Sasha Fierce” is club r&b with Knowles taking on the name she gives her wilder stage persona.

The candid ballads – the “real” Beyonce – are of course anything but. Generic, charmless, X-Factor-friendly radio-swill is what they are, occasionally punctuated by the usual all-sisters-together hen night cliches. Rest assured, Kylie from Peckham and Mandy from Hartlepool, that your sister Beyonce will be there for you when you discover you’re pregnant at fourteen. She’ll be round in a cab to bond immediately and talk about empowerment over a cheap bottle of chardonnay. Or maybe not.

The “Sasha Fierce” set, which values machine-click rhythms over tunes, pays lip service to “single ladies putting a ring on it”. Yet if she believes in abstinence before marriage the faux-lusty come-ons of ‘Video Phone’ (“you want me naked? you can tape it”) are confusing. ‘Diva’ insists that “diva” is female for “hustler”, which is just inaccurate. ‘Ego’ begins with her telling us how special she is, which I think we’ve heard before. The whole thing rat-a-tats clinically by like Rihanna out-takes, lacking any fire in the belly and certainly shorn of anything resembling soul. When you think that Beyonce’s people and publishers are given their free choice of just about every song in the world, the dullness and torpor that cloaks everything here is shocking. The world’s sexiest woman? Bored now.

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