Lemonade – Beyoncé (2016)

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Singer Songwriter Beyonce Knowles Carter released her 6th Studio album in April 2016 and the release was her 2nd consecutive visual album.

Although this was released as a visual album my review is of the audio format as no matter how good or bad visuals are the fact remains that the proof of an albums quality is in the music.

But with that said the fanfare surrounding the albums concept and the visual nature of “Lemonade” will naturally alter the perception of the tracks thus influencing the type of review that the album is given.

“Lemonade” deals with themes of hurt, loss, betrayal, love and empowerment. This is not very strange for Beyonce as most of her albums have dealt with the same themes.

The marketing campaign for this album was cleverly done with certain lyrics being taken and put into a context which has Beyonce as a woman scored and her husband Jay Z having cheated on her. I will come to that later.

Taking each song as an individual track is therefore difficult but it is something that I will try to do.

“Pray You Catch Me” is the opening track with Beyonce singing over minimal backing tune and almost singing acapella for much of the track. Lyrically and vocally she is impressive and the message of the song is really put across.

There is no doubt that Beyonce is good at conveying the obvious emotions people go through and in this track you get the sense that she is upset at being ignored and believes she is not being seen in this mans life.

“Hold Up” is a change of tone as Beyonce goes from small and fragile to defiant and down right bitchy. The reggae fusion style of the song is a change of tone to what we would expect from Beyonce. The way the track is produced really puts her voice to the forefront that it is almost as if she is freestyling over a beat she has heard in the street.

The key lyric of the song is :

What’s worse, lookin’ jealous or crazy?
Jealous or crazy?
Or like being walked all over lately, walked all over lately
I’d rather be crazy

My issue at this point is that I don’t exactly have a massive outpouring of sympathy with Beyonce as she sounds so strong that if any many wishes to cheat on her then it is clearly his loss. He is not exactly ‘Irreplaceable’ is he??

“Hurt Yourself” again is a change of musical style. It features Jack White and the production is loud with big drums, an organ and the bass driving the song through. The vocal from Beyonce has been distorted as she essentially rants over a track which sonically isn’t a pleasing experience. It’s designed to be loud and angry but all I hear is noise (god I sound old).

With so much being made about the lyrical content in this album the final passage of the song just about confirms that Beyonce is talking about her husband Jay Z.

Uh, this is your final warning
You know I give you life
If you try this shit again
You gonna lose your wife

“Sorry” is the 4th track. It shows Beyonce again showing a more defiant side by saying that she is going out with her friends and she doesn’t need this man to enjoy herself. The trouble is when she says lyrics like “I ain’t thinking about you” whilst singing a song about this person it seems a little hollow.

By the end of the track the thoughts about going to a club with her girls is replaced by a clear desperate emotional hurt and anger.

“He only want me when I’m not there
He better call becky with the good hair”

“6 Inch” features singer songwriter The Weeknd. The dark murky style of the track suits the inclusion of The Weeknd given that his own album “Beauty Behind The Madness” was as dark and mysterious as Beyonce is attempting on “Lemonade”.

The track seems to see Beyonce letting the listener know that she has made her own money and worked hard for it. Again this furthers the evidence that she is talking from personal experience and perhaps is addressing accusations that her relationship with Jay Z is why she has been so successful over the last 12 years.

“Daddy Lessons” starts off with a horn section you would be used to hearing if you were frequenting the wonderful city of New Orleans. The production on this track is phenomanal and this is far and away my favourite track on the album. Beyonce sounds like a soul singer on this track which I haven’t really heard from her since her debut album on the track “Me Myself & I”.

The song is about her father Matthew who famously managed Destinys Child and the early part of Beyonces solo career. The inclusion of this song on an album which is mainly about the relationship with her husband is not strange to me as comparisons between her father and husband is something she clearly thinks about. These are the two main male figures in her life and essentially this album is about how the important men in her life are seen.

“Love Drought” is one of the least interesting songs on the album. Lyrically it is not very engaging with lines such as “You and me could move a mountain” and the musical structure of the track is quite frankly just a bit boring.

“Sandcastles” is a piano ballad. I shouldn’t comment on the visual for this song but it features Jay Z. This baffles me considering this entire album was meant to be a expose of his indiscretions. Maybe she just didn’t tell him and he was like “Oh yeah i’ll be in your video B”.

Her vocal is raw on this track and although it all starts to seem a little contrived Beyonce delivers a decent performance.

“Forward” is the 9th track and under a minute and half long. It features the vocal of James Blake who in fairness actually sings the whole song with Beyonce just offering very few backing vocals.

This leads us into the 10th track “Freedom”. This is produced by Just Blaze and features rapper Kendrick Lamar. The production of this track is superb and Beyonce sounds big and bold which is a style she does extremely well.

This track is about women, black people and the rising above persecution and repression. Beyonce is seeing herself as pioneer of hope and trying to install confidence into her people.

The verse from Lemar is engaging as very compelling. The merging of the two artists on this track works very well and I would love to hear more collaborations from Beyonce and Kendrick.

Everything is then slowed down a pace with the penultimate track “All Night”. This is a love ballad and after it’s slow start I really start to enjoy it. The rawness of the vocal is deliberate but it works. I am very impressed again by the way the song is produced. It’s very smooth but still pleasant.

The final track on “Lemonade” was the first single released “Formation”. I didn’t like this song when I first heard it and having listened to it a few more times before reviewing this (and as I type) it hasn’t grown on me. I dislike immensely the way she sings on the track. I say singing but it’s just chanting and I just cannot follow the track. There isn’t a melody I can follow and the song seems out of place on the set.

So the question is – “Lemonade” is it any good?

It’s decent enough. There is a theme and that has been the marketing used to promote the album. Do I believe that there has been such a breakdown in the relationship between Beyonce and her husband Shawn Carter (Jay Z)? No I do not. On the back of the album it says “Executive Producer Beyonce Knowles Carter”. To make a real statement she should have dropped the Carter and probably not had him in one of her videos for the damn album.

Taking away from any real life element then there is a few strong tracks on the album where Beyonce excels vocally and certainly sounds stronger than other females on the Pop music scene like Swift, Perry and Rihanna.

Beyonce has a desperation to be “artist” and the release of the last two albums have not been conventional with single promotion but I am a cynic and believe that the poor sales of the album “4” prompted this and she is selling her music as she is selling her brand.

I’m not sure the music is important to the brand that is Beyonce any more. This album whilst displaying some good moments doesn’t really get me excited for further releases.

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