The surprise unannounced album has become unsurprising in 2016. Yes, it’s technically still surprising when any superstar releases a new album, but not nearly as unexpected as it once was. After shocking the world with Beyoncé back in December 2013, another surprise album from Beyoncé was inevitable. This time, it comes in the form of Lemonade, initially streaming only via Tidal. One thing about Lemonade is for sure – it’s not sour in the least!
Lemonade is clearly Beyoncé at her most experimental – call this her ‘Anti’ album to say the least (shout out to Rihanna). “Pray You Catch Me” is the first indication that Lemonade isn’t traditional and that Beyoncé is digging deeper and speaking personally. “Prayin’ to catch you whispering / I’m prayin’ you catch me listening…I’m prayin’ you catch me.” Uh oh… trouble in paradise? It seems that way.
The narrative grows more intriguing on the international flavored “Hold Up” where Bey asserts at one point, “I don’t wanna lose my pride, but I’ma f**k me up a b***h.” Here, Beyoncé oscillates between emotional uncertainty (“What’s worse, lookin’ jealous or crazy”) and real talk/reality (“Hold up, they don’t love you like I love you…what a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you”).
The best moment of Lemonade comes with the unexpected, manic “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” where Beyoncé never sounded angrier. She perfectly captures a woman scorned, through her aggressive tone, lack of filter, and general rock and roll swagger. To add to the brilliance of “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is a killer Led Zeppelin sample (“When The Levee Breaks”).
Beyoncé’s feisty swagger continues on the slickly produced hip-hop pop cut “Sorry” where she’s clearly NOT sorry. If it was the least bit unclear, the “Middle fingers up, put them hands high / wave it in his face, tell him, boy, bye” clarifies Bey’s attitude. “6 Inch” features the ubiquitous The Weeknd, who suits this particular record perfectly. The fascinating part of “6 Inch” is Bey’s sultry hook, sung in her low register over a sample of Isaac Hayes’ beloved “Walk On By.”
“Daddy Lessons” continues the stylistic contrasts of Lemonade, embracing country (!). Does it work? Yes. No, this doesn’t mean that Beyoncé should record a full country album, but the effective results are surprising – no knock on Beyoncé’s musical range of course. The line that will undoubtedly stand out is when Beyoncé sings, “He always played it cool / but daddy was no fool / and right before he died he said remember…” Hmm, Matthew Knowles is still in the land of the living!
“Love Drought” is a return to form – firmly planted in urban music. Cool, calm, and collected, Beyoncé portrays the “love drought” marvelously, contrasting her angst on the likes of “Hold Up,” “Don’t Hurt Yourself” and “Sorry.” On moving ballad “Sandcastles,” the emotion is authentic, particularly the key moment when Beyoncé pushes her voice, purposely seeking a coarser, harsher texture out of character given the general finesse of this performance.
One has to do a double take on “Forward,” which features an unlikely collaboration with electronic standout James Blake. Sure it’s brief and Blake takes the reins, but still – who saw this coming? The liberating “Freedom” arrives in the nick of time, returning the diva to her aggressive, bold persona. She gets a terrific lift, thanks to the one and only Kendrick Lamar. Has the man ever spit a bad verse? Nope! Penultimate number “All Night” continues the consistency and excellence of Lemonade, while the controversial “Formation” fittingly concludes the album.
All in all, Beyoncé’s sixth studio album is another winning addition to her collection. This is clearly Beyoncé’s most unique album to date and easily ranks among the crème de la crème of 2016 as of yet. While some won’t enjoy the more experimental side of Beyoncé, ultimately, it coincides with the evolving artist, always enhancing their craft. Over her last two albums, Beyoncé has done just that – pushed the envelope.
Favorites: “Hold Up,” “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” “Sorry,” “Sandcastles,” “Freedom” and “Formation”
Beyoncé • Lemonade • Parkwood Entertainment • Release Date: 4.23.16