Off the back of her hugely successful and surprisingly excellent Self-Titled 2013 album, Lemonade is the surprise new album from Pop royalty Beyonce. When comparing this new project with her previous effort, it’s refreshing to note just how many improvements there are. While Beyonce’s recent output hasn’t shied away from making political statements, Lemonade is the most concise and convincing she’s ever been. Linking her own tale of being a victim to her husband’s infidelities with a wider narrative of growing up as an African-American woman, Beyonce gives the album a conceptual backbone that is both engagingly relevant and emotionally resonant in its personal inferences.
I’ll admit I’ve had issues with many of Beyonce’s well-meaning attempts at female empowerment in that past. From “Run the World” and “Single Ladies”, to 2013’s “Pretty Hurts”, no amount of good intentions could hide the glaring lack of nuance dampening the core message of each of these tracks. It would have been easy to continue this trend and completely write-off her husband for his wrongdoings, writing an album to stick it to cheating pricks worldwide. This is what it appears we’re getting for the first few tracks, from the paranoia which permeates the delicate opener “Pray You Catch Me” and the tropical delight “Hold Up” to the unbridled rage that bursts from the Jack White collaboration “Don’t Hurt Yourself” and the most traditionally Beyonce track here “Sorry”.
It’s here where the album takes an unexpected turn; backed by crisp country instrumentation, Beyonce takes a moment to reflect on her formative years with “Daddy Lessons”, seemingly coming to the conclusion that she’d made the Freudian mistake of falling for a man with the same character flaws as her father. Then on “Love Drought” she lets her empathy and humanity shine through, showing her insecurities by questioning her own actions, the role she played in everything that’s happened and the fact that her husband is trying to make amends. These tracks see Beyonce undergo healing and growth, culminating into her choosing to stay with her husband on the ballad “All Night”.
While it excels thematically, Lemonade also features some brilliant moments of songwriting and production perfection. The disjointed organ and bass line on “Don’t Hurt Yourself” coupled with Jack White’s manic chorus and Beyonce’s seething vocal delivery make for a cathartically furious experience. The swirling, slick beats of “6 Inch” and “All Night” credited to the like of Diplo and BOOTS and often accented by shrill Trap high-hats and subtle guitars. The uncharacteristically wide array of features on this album also bode well for Lemonade, with James Blake’s ominous voice on “Forward” and Kendricks great verse on “Freedom” being particular highlights. While sometimes the lyrics lack eloquence and not all the beats work as well as they should, the good far outweighs the bad.
On Lemonade, Beyonce maintains her dominant image whilst also displaying unprecedented levels of vulnerability and humanity. Her tale of betrayal and forgiveness intertwines beautifully with the over-arching themes of growth and the strength of a Black woman. Bolstered by the aid of top tier songwriters and collaborators, Lemonade is the most cohesive and valuable body of work Beyonce has put forth to date.