Beyonce – Lemonade
Released April 23rd, 2016 on Columbia Records
Within the first thirty seconds of Lemonade it becomes painfully obvious that there is a story going on here, that there is a sordid tale of infidelity, anger, empowerment, and a relationship coming through to the other side embedded within. The tabloids have been on fire since the album dropped by surprise three days ago; rumours of infidelity and divorce have swirled around Beyonce and her husband, rap mogul Jay-Z, for years, reaching their peak around the time Beyonce’s sister Solange beat the snot out of Jay in an elevator. Lemonade just adds fuel to the fire, and not just for people breathlessly trying to figure out the identity of “Sorry”‘s “Becky with the good hair”. How else can you take lyrics like “I don’t wanna lose my pride / But I’m-a fuck me up a bitch” (“Hold Up”), “This is your final warning / You know I give you life / If you try this shit again / You gon lose your wife” (“Don’t Hurt Yourself”), “Looking at my watch, he shoulda been home / Today I regret the night I put that ring on” (“Sorry”), “My daddy warned me about men like you / He said baby girl he’s playing you” (“Daddy Lessons”), “Ten times out of nine I know you’re lying” (“Love Drought”)?
If this were an anguished breakup album it might be awkward, mopey, and forgettable. Beyonce, however, is nothing if not an Independent Woman and as such her strident sense of self-confidence is only slightly dinged here and there by the revelations of her man cheating on her. She questions herself on the Mike Dean-produced “Love Drought” but it’s only for a second. The best tracks on Lemonade are the ones where Queen Bey walks across the stage like a boss and slays everyone in her path: “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, “6 Inch”, “Freedom”, and “Formation”. “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is vicious, and the Jack White feature feels like the production of a man just barely able to hold his own against the star’s righteous fury. “6 Inch” is Bey in Bad Bitch Extraordinaire mode, and the presence of The Weeknd on it marks the first time I’ve ever felt him to be overshadowed. “Freedom” is a militant black power anthem, stretching the metaphor of freedom beyond simply being freedom from a philandering partner to seeking freedom for her people as a whole (and damn whatever Azalea Banks thinks) and “Formation” is another in this vein, being the song that caused such faux outrage when she performed it at the NFL’s Super Bowl Halftime Show.
The rest of the album seems to be a grab-bag of styles amalgamated into the area of Greater Metropolitan Beyonce. “Hold Up” features contributions from Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig and has Bey interpolating the chorus from “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. “Daddy Lessons” fuses arid East Texas country with New Orleans brass as both an homage to her once-domineering father and I suppose as a potential crossover hit, not that Beyonce really needs such devices in 2016. “Sandcastles” is the lone offering of your Standard Diva Piano Ballad, and the decision to keep such proceedings to a judicious one serves both the album and the artist well. There’s nothing worse than stuffing an album with awful, maudlin piano ballads, especially if you’re just going to spray melisma all over potentially decent melodies anyway. Beyonce does neither; it’s one ballad, and her delivery is far more Aretha Franklin than it is Contemporary Post-American Idol Diva. It’s also devastating. “Dishes smashed on my counter from our last encounter / Pictures snatched out of the frame” sounds very different in the context of the song than it would on, say, “Don’t Hurt Yourself” and the reason why is the reason as to the lingering power and impact of Lemonade.
Regardless of whether or not it’s about her relationship with her husband or if it is (as my all-too-cynical friend Steve suggests) the marketing ploy of billionaires looking to drum up controversy to sell albums (because Beyonce’s ever needed that), Lemonade is another notch in the increasingly stellar belt of the singer’s career. If it really is about her relationship with Jay, that makes it all the jucier: as his career continues to decline, hers remains ascendant, more so than ever.
[Lemonade is currently available for sale on iTunes and is streaming exclusively on TIDAL. I don’t have a TIDAL subscription.]
And The Rest…
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