Beyoncé, 'I Am…Sasha Fierce' (Music World/Columbia)

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I Am...Sasha Fierce
Critical Mass
Label: Music World/Columbia

by Stacey Anderson

Because 2008 wasn't enough like the ultimate battle of good versus evil, Beyoncé would like to throw her hat into the fray. Or, rather, her glove -- the silver Terminator accessory she's been sporting, which signifies the haute couture arrogance and can-crushing prowess of her new persona, Sasha Fierce. This creature lies dormant underneath her superego but stirs to deliver, uh, ferocious performances onstage.

Oh, Jesus, what?

For this Jekyll/Hyde conceit, Beyoncé's third solo album is divided into two discs: the first titled "I Am"; the second, "Sasha Fierce." They should be called "Slow" and "Fast," or "Sad" and "Happy," or "Eeyore" and "Tigger" -- the former opens with the glistening, jaded ballad "If I Were a Boy," then meanders over seven more down-tempo cuts. The steady pace deadens any subtleties; even delicate, sophisticated tracks such as"Satellites" bleed into one underwhelming purr.

"Sasha" (now, if she'd followed that up with "Obama," we'd have a concept album) fascinates by comparison. It's more brash than anything off Dangerously in Love or B'day -- "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" smirks along with aggro handclaps, and "Diva" places a startling, sexy snarl ("Now, diva is a female version of a hustla") over window-rattling bass. So why is Beyoncé only portioning out this "strong," "new" presence? She's always been an independent woman. "Sasha" is an intriguing but diluted direction. Mrs. Carter, keep following the monster within.

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