Away from the visual accompaniments and release hype, Beyoncé Knowles’s sixth album, Lemonade, represents a tipping pointing for the megastar: this isn’t pop music for clubbers and beach dwellers; its pop music coloured with the politics of the day for socially conscientious clubbers and beach dwellers. This is about protest and power, and Beyoncé wants you to know it’s personal.
Much adulation has been directed at Beyoncé’s celebration of her blackness and her Texan roots with this album. It is a strong characteristic: the assertive ‘Formation’ has content in direct response to the horrific racial violence that has been taking place in the US, while ‘Daddy Lessons’ is a tale of Beyoncé’s growth from little girl to soldier in the style of a southern country blues song. However, to paraphrase one Twitter user: if it takes Beyoncé’s Lemonade to make some people acknowledge lots of things are not right in modern society, then they do have issues.
There is a scattering of charged, political moments in Lemonade, such as the aforementioned ‘Formation’ and the pounding fury of ‘Freedom’, featuring Kendrick Lamar, which is unlike the Beyoncé anthems of old. But, honestly, listeners with their ears to the ground will have heard deeper allegories or stories of the black experience from Erykah Badu, Janelle Monáe, Oshun, and others. That said, this is Beyoncé. People pay more attention because of her world-conquering status.
The other side to Lemonade are its acrid, TMZ-fuelling songs that Queen B has been the victim of an alleged extramarital affair. The spectacular ‘Hold Up’, with its majestic rhythm and Beyoncé’s salvo of regal rhetoric (“Never had the baddest woman in the game up in your sh-e-eets”), and the damning ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’, with Jack White, compel you to listen to them over and over – and may just make Beyoncé’s husband, rapper and owner of the Tidal music service, Jay-Z, think twice before getting on the wrong side of her. ‘6 Inch’, too, with its noticeable Isaac Hayes’ ‘Walk on By’ sample and assertion that Beyoncé could step into a bar and murder its occupants with her looks and her high-heels alone, is equally punchy.
Lemonade is a previously unseen side to Beyoncé. Where the album’s carefully controlled commentary on Bey and Jay’s personal life does sour is the feeling that some of these songs do not all belong on this album – the James Blake interlude just feels like indulgence. Sliding between political activism and personal affairs, the album is well executed, but lacks the completeness of Beyoncé’s 2013 self-titled effort. Yet, with its moreish productions (‘All Night’) and Beyoncé’s sweet-and-spicy vocals, Lemonade is still an album you’ll want to squeeze every last drop from.
Lemonade is out now on Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia Records.
Image: Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia Records