With her 2013 surprise self-titled release, Beyoncé put her name on the tips of everyone’s tongues, and it’s stayed there ever since. On Saturday, Beyoncé cashed in on her name, doubling down on her trend of surprise projects with LEMONADE, easily the best record of her career.
Whether it’s her work with Destiny’s Child or her prolific solo discography, Beyoncé’s brand finds success on the charts no matter the quality — a true testament to the dedication of her fans. Her earlier albums lack the substance to make them anything beyond fun pop hooks and gimmicks, but her 2013 release, Beyoncé, started pushing in a more experimental direction. On LEMONADE, Beyoncé explores this even further to fantastic success in the most surprising
Most critics will call LEMONADE an R&B record, and although they won’t be wrong, Beyoncé makes it nearly impossible to pigeonhole this project into just one genre. After the record’s moody first track, “Pray You Catch Me,” the album brings on a tropical vibe with “Hold Up,” a track produced by Beyoncé, Diplo and Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend. Then, LEMONADE completely changes direction, sampling Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” and featuring a guest vocal from rock superstar Jack White on “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” The album switches back and forth from electronic soul on “Sorry” to Beyoncé’s impressive country debut on “Daddy Lessons.” Billed as “a conceptual project based on every woman’s journey of self knowledge and healing,” LEMONADE lives up to its hype in the variety of styles it covers.
This colorful sound is brought to the album thanks to its healthy list of contributors. “Hold Up” has songwriting credits for fifteen names alone, including all of the aforementioned producers as well as Josh Tillman (better known as Father John Misty) and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. This trend continues on other songs — James Blake makes an appearance on the album’s ninth track, “Forward,” and provides his production talents as well, creating a slight spin on the signature Beyoncé R&B sound.
If there’s a beef to pick with the litter of professional songwriters on every track, it’s that they tend to give each song an ambiguous and slightly sterile feeling. To fight back, Beyoncé builds off of the ambiguity, tying uncertainty into her music through real life struggles. Online fans have already kicked off the rumors, suspecting that LEMONADE is about Beyoncé’s relationship with her husband Jay Z, and although it’s not certain, there’s an obvious discussion of relationship struggles, feminism, black empowerment and confidence throughout the entire album — wrapped up fittingly with “Formation” as its smashing conclusion. Even the album’s title ties into a theme of staying self-assured and positive in light of adversity — when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
At times, LEMONADE skips a beat, but doesn’t fall apart because of it. “All Night” is a mellow moment that allows Beyoncé to display her amazing vocal talents, but with the even slower and more elegant “Sandcastles” just a few tracks before, the album’s penultimate song feels like a lull considering how heavy-handed many of the previous songs are.
But by the end of one listen to LEMONADE, the slight slip-ups don’t detract from its powerful message. This is the first album of Beyoncé’s that confronts listeners with a strong message of both conviction and endurance. Although the album’s direct intentions might not be obvious, what is obvious is that this surprise release developed as much hype, if not more, than her last one three years ago — LEMONADE is far superior to Beyoncé in quality and progression of Beyoncé’s sound. She may have begun her career as a mega-pop star, but LEMONADE proves that Beyoncé has evolved to push boundaries in experimental R&B to impressive results.
- Artist: Beyoncé
- Genre: Alternative R&B/Experimental Pop
- Tracks: 12
- Rating: 8/10