*EDITOR’S NOTE: This review solely covers the 12-track album, not the accompanying film with the same name.
When Beyoncé’s first surprise album dropped in late 2013, I was in the minority of its reception. I couldn’t help but be underwhelmed with the album’s filler tracks. As much as I love “Rocket,” “Partition,” and “Blow” the overall high-quality consistency of the creative superstar’s self-titled project was too back-and-forth for my taste. This time around I wanted to hear a more cohesive Beyoncé. There were plenty of standout tracks, don’t get me wrong. However, the songs that were meant to string the pieces of the album together figuratively sounded like going 60 over a few sets of speed bumps. The songwriting occasionally felt bland. “XO” is a lovely song. I just felt that the chorus could have benefited from a much more dynamic direction. The music of that song is absolutely beautiful, though. That’s the main reason it’s still on my phone.
The same goes for “Superpower” with Frank Ocean. The steadiness of the hi-hats and strings paired with a dash of bass drum and retro backing vocals gave it an immovable foundation. Nevertheless, I thought the two vocalists could thrive on creating a reserved power duo ballad. Beyoncé’s voice is infinitely more robust than Frank’s (which is why his voice tends to whine at times). But the man is such an incredible artist his somewhat limited range does way more help than harm. “Superpower,” to me, felt like it should have been a solo Frank track or the aforementioned power ballad. Honestly, that’s just me nitpicking because I love that song. It’s the only one from that album I ever played on repeat for an extended period of time. Despite that, sweating the details is simply what I do.
That’s why after my final listen-through of Lemonade, I had an epiphany. I noticed I was spending most of my time trying to find what I didn’t like about this album that I glossed over what makes it special. I’ve been a Beyoncé fan for many years. Yet when I analyze her albums (excluding her excellent introduction to Sasha Fierce) I always expect more from the queen of R&B. Sometimes I forget how deserving she is of her acclaim. Few artists can simultaneously shake and stop the world at any given time.
With that said, Lemonade is no ordinary album. It is a beautifully layered collection of heartbreak, perseverance, and brilliant originality. Whatever gripes I have with her self-titled visual album experience ultimately get washed away by its deeply textured production and handful of classic R&B highlights. While Beyoncé the album is without a doubt an impressive effort, Lemonade takes a similar imaginative promotional approach to soar to new heights artistically. Essentially, Bey has elevated from queen to goddess status by pouring every fiber of her being into this sonic/visual triumph.
Lemonade is Beyoncé’s most human collection of music to date. I specifically recall my initial thoughts of her 2011 single “Love on Top”. It was incredibly hard for me to believe. Who in their right mind would ever make someone as talented, successful, and drop-dead gorgeous as Beyoncé a secondary priority? I thought it was an attempt to portray herself as having a pedestrian style vulnerability.
Conversely, experiencing these 12 tracks today proves to me that there is no facade. There is no shortage of brutal honesty in Knowles’ discography. She is vulnerable just like you and me — not because she is weak, but because she is human. In spite of all that, she refuses to allow her demons to consume her. Her partner’s infidelity refined her inner strength. Beyoncé channels her anger and intermittent fragility, giving rise to newfound cohesion and self-empowerment. Those cut from even the most regal of cloths still must deal with life’s hardships. This album perfectly documents how when life gave Beyoncé lemons, she not only made some of the best damn lemonade we’ve ever tasted; she made a difference.
The key ingredient in this homemade batch is personality. A distinctly limited amount of contemporary artists could pull off this grand of a spectacle. Lemonade accomplishes in a mere dozen tracks what 99 percent of albums can only dream of becoming. Most albums as stylistically daring and sporadic as this one would crumble inside their own ambition. The theme here is evident. Her critique of her lover’s behavior is as relentless as it should be. (Remember, folks, falling in love with an artist is a double-edged sword.)
When I first heard news that this album was basically burning Hov at the stake, I thought I was going to grow tired of hearing Beyoncé bash him. And, truthfully, at first, I did. I was waiting for a radio-butchered banger she has so effortlessly mastered over the course of her almost two-decade career. Yet I should know from her previous record that Beyoncé no longer releases music traditionally. In regard to the future of album conception, if Beyoncé was her making a statement, Lemonade is her making history.
The plethora of genre-blending soundscapes heard throughout Lemonade are easily the singer’s best. There are no customary number-one singles on this album. I’m sure The Hive will make one of these songs a chart-topper, though. Personally, I’m pulling for “Love Drought,” the mid-album delicate plea which serves as a last call for withering vows. I wouldn’t have minded hearing a big commercial single on this album since Beyoncé might literally be the best across all genres at manufacturing them.
However, this album, this music, these lyrics are strictly for her, by her. Every single track has the right amount of finesse mixed with pure, unfiltered emotion. But there’s never a moment here where emotions get the best of her. “Don’t Hurt Yourself” features an aggressively cocky Yoncé alongside a spirited performance from Grammy-winning rock star Jack White. This song is a game changer. Bey is putting Jay in check saying she’s going to dance for and on another man (or something like that) if something doesn’t change soon. Her incredibly serious tone lets all listeners know the reality of her situation. She compares his actions to him hurting himself. Because they were supposed to love each other that much. I dunno, man. This chick keeps it real.
Lemonade was not made for the public per se. It is Beyoncé’s personal defense statement. This moment in her life ate her up inside to the point where she could no longer be silent. And, like a true artist, uses her environment and passion to fuel her creativity. This album’s pairing of consummate elegance and resilience is nothing short of inspiring. Even on tracks that deviate from the main theme like “6 Inch,” “Formation,” and “Freedom” she still finds a way to please various types of listeners. The Lamar-assisted “Freedom” is powerful on a number of levels. Whether you’re fighting for respect, trying to get into a creative state of mind, or pushing the Start button on a local gym treadmill, this song gets you ready. It is one of the most uplifting songs I’ve heard in recent years.
Beyoncé has accomplished as many things in her career: singer, songwriter, entertainer, choreographer, actress, model, businesswoman. You name it, she’s probably done it. Although her image is clean and mainstream, she remains transparent. And with this album she has proven just how relatable her music can be. Matching that with seamless production and fiery songwriting we are witnessing a revolutionary artist finally create an undeniable classic. This concoction is neither too sweet nor too weak. Say what you will of this star’s legacy, but once you take a sip of Bey’s Lemonade just know you are tasting greatness.