True Love Never Has To Hide: A Review of Beyonce’s Lemonade
“Keep the top tier, 5 star”
The queen on the cover of LEMONADE is clearly ruling more than just the fervent dealings of her busy bees. Chart dominance has been done, and there’s more important matters to attend to. Less interested in the cavernous hooks of her 2013 self-titled, the pyroclastic confessions on Beyoncé’s sixth studio album come from the victim of a failing relationship. Without losing a fractal of inspiration, she takes a note from Future, though on the other side of the fence. His mixtape-to-DS2-to-mixtape run pertained to the ignorant, boneheaded fallout of a relationship ruined by pride; LEMONADE is the scorned open palm retaliation. But referring to LEMONADE as an album about infidelity is withholding proper reverence. It’s about so much more than that. Protest music is enjoying a beautiful renaissance in the ’10’s, seeking not empathy nor compassion, but a blunt object with which to pummel its views, often gorgeously, into your psyche. Promoting this trend, LEMONADE is as breathtaking in form as it is acerbic in attitude. Draped in fur and gold dreaded, Beyoncé the Preacher proves to be even better than Beyoncé the Pop star.
“Pray You Catch Me” is akin to a more voluptuous “Ultralight Beam.” Fittingly, it’s home to Jon Brion’s latter-day hip-hop staple string arrangements and Bey doing a whole choir’s work. “Hold Up” had me taken aback as both a heartwarming ballad and a scathing diss. It’s second verse one of the most shrewd tackling of characters ever, while the rest is a carefree ode to unadulterated love, perturbed —but not levelled— by hubris. The juxtaposition of these openers set the cathartic tone for the twelve-track open diary that follows. Downtempo, reflective, reflexive, and soulful, LEMONADE wrestles with the perils of an untrustworthy relationship and the passion that sews it together.
LEMONADE is both hurt and hurting. It’s a painfully (keep in mind, allegedly) personal collection of songs wherein the most deified star of her generation shows a very mortal side. As frustrated the album seems, the common denominator remains forgiveness and determination; this, not her jaw-dropping performance or the stunning production, is what makes it great. After almost every moment of in-your-face empowerment is a pulled back to vulnerability: questions like “What are you doing my love?” are followed by “How I’ve missed you, my love” admissions. The aching “Come back, come back, come back, come back” begging tailing her superhero quasi-fantasies on “6 Inch” or the steaming jealousy of Becky and her bomb hair on “Sorry.” But that should never undercuts how, dare I say it, fun some of these songs are. “Hold Up,” as hostile as it gets, never tussles the bounce of it’s caribbean lineage, and it’s difficult, even to the queen of public perception, not to shroud the smirk under her sneer on “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” But it’s on the penultimate, dopalicious, “All Night” that LEMONADE’s overarching truth makes itself known: though she’s holding a royal flush, her hand is willing to compromise. It’s most awe-inspiring attribute is how she paints the…um…man, whomever that may be… between digs that would make ’01 Nas crumple his lyrics sheet. Beyoncé paints the culprit as sympathetic, tender, soft and trying. He’s lying, crying, but nine times out of ten he’s trying. There’s anger, yes, and exasperation, but primarily compassion. It’s strikingly pure and raw; disappointed, but determined to improve.
Even the albums low-points —the choppy first half of “Sorry” that struggles with its rhythm, and the slightly-too country if impeccably penned “Daddy Lessons”— eventually build into stare-downs of mythic proportions. Red hot eyes cleanly cutting through a marital funk. “Don’t Hurt Yourself” works as interesting as a collaboration with Jack White even if his contribution is, contextually, disinteresting. It’s not hard to imagine his vocals being better delivered by Beyoncé herself, who’s swagger seeps from between her bared teeth. That being said, shrieking “Love God herself” is an affirming progression; one of the biggest rock stars in the world gladly accepting second fiddle to a woman who’s got that world swinging from her braids. His guitar may provide the tracks rock-ist backbone, but it’s Beyoncé who brings back Bonham and breaks the levee herself. Apart from that, the remainder of the cuts simplicity belie their depth of emotion: “Love Drought” is beautiful; “Sandcastles” is heartache; “Forward” is a crucial baby-step in reconciliation’s direction, and a welcome vocal feature from James Blake. The brit’s input, wise and wounded beyond its years, is always a appreciated.
I can’t imagine any song apart from “Formation” being played at a party the same way as “Drunk In Love” or “Partition,” but every track has a comfortable home between a pair of headphones when gried fuels a lonely night in as booze fuels nights out. I also can’t identify with LEMONADE — as a person who’s not, to my knowledge, a woman, it’s not an album made for me. This is an album for the injured woman, specifically the injured black American woman. That doesn’t mean it can’t be appreciated or thoroughly moving, which it most certainly is. It’s daring, uncompromising, insightful music made by an artist who’s hive had long been established off the success of girl-group pop songs. LEMONADE could very well have pandered to the marginalized and breathed life into bank accounts under the guise of dissent à la Taylor Swift’s 1989. That Beyoncé chose to nakedly ruminate on an album dissected by everyone and their grandmother is a testament to not only her talent, but to the faith and respect she garners; the faith and respect she has earned. You don’t get to make a confessional album like this without earning it, and the “diaries of a megastar” sub-genre prominent in the wake of 808’s & Heartbreak has made for some of the most poignant music in years. LEMONADE ranks right up there with the best of them. This is how you get something off your chest, how you find strength in embarrassment —take note J.Cole. Beyoncé doesn’t come off jealous or crazy. Simply, wondrously, human.