On 2006's B'Day, Beyoncé delivered a 10-song suite inspired by the unhappy-diva role she played in that year's Dreamgirls. Now she's split her personality in two. I Am Sasha Fierce's halves are meant to represent her deeply felt ("I Am") and showily outrageous ("Sasha Fierce") sides, and they attempt that feat in less than 42 minutes of music spread across two CDs. The requisite "special edition" adds a handful of bonus tracks, but someone should still alert the EPA—that's a lot of wasted plastic.
Fierce is also a split victory musically. The two halves wouldn't necessarily sound better shuffled together—both are pretty uneven. "If I Were A Boy" has boilerplate lyrics that would fit perfectly in an old Hayley Mills vehicle, and "Broken-Hearted Girl" sounds unfinished. But Beyoncé has a real flair for grandeur, and the big, wide melodies of "Halo" and "Ave Maria" give her enough to work with that it's easy to forgive a line like "Baby, I can feel your halo." And "Disappear" features a delicate lead vocal and subtle, bewitching overdubbed harmonies.
The second half is iffier. "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" is fabulous, with glowing production, a humongous hook, and beats for weeks. But it grows more disparate from there. "Radio" sounds like shameless target-marketing aimed at programming directors, "Video Phone" like a Missy Elliott outtake circa 2001. "Diva" is a blatantly obvious attempt to write a distaff "A Milli." ("Better have a six-pack in the cooler," we're warned. Yawn.) Too bad that between the two of them, the bifurcated Beyoncés couldn't manage a better album.