REVIEW: When life gives Bey lemons…
by Quinn Fenger
Beyoncé needs little introduction. The “Queen B” of pop and ruler of modern female empowerment, she’s also half of one of the biggest celebrity power couples around — a relationship speculated to be on the rocks, given the tone of her latest album, “Lemonade.”
The album debuted as a special on HBO. Although incredibly powerful, the following review will consider only the audio elements of the album.
Beyoncé cuts right to the point. Haunting vocals and a synth bass open the album’s first song, “Pray You Catch Me,” which includes the lyrics, “You can taste the dishonesty.” This song paints a picture of Beyoncé pressed against a door, listening, wishing to be caught, perhaps to finally introduce an awaiting conflict.
This transitions perfectly into a slow beat with pseudo-banjo playing in the distance in the next track, “Hold Up.” Beyoncé lyrically addresses her feelings in her strangled relationship, introducing the powerful topics of jealousy and infidelity. This song does well as a warm-up or even a rise in conflict towards the next intense song in the album, “Don’t Hurt Yourself.”
Once again, a smooth transition brings us from a slow, rhythmic beat into the rocking, Jack White riffs that are all over “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” Beyoncé’s voice is distorted and furious, shouting out to her lover. Lyrically aggressive, Beyoncé almost growls “And keep your money, I got my own. (I) get a bigger smile on my face, being alone.” The true message of this song lies in the chorus: “When you hurt me, you hurt yourself.”
The fourth track, “Sorry,” takes on a “sorry, not sorry” attitude. The ringing synth beat is accompanied by straightforward lyrics, especially in the third verse. The line “today I regret the day I put that ring on” stands out the most.
The next song, “6 inch,” features a quick verse from The Weeknd. This club beat sends a standard message for Beyoncé, reasserting feminine empowerment and telling the story of someone saving their “stacks” with a higher goal in mind. This track is honestly forgettable compared to the next song on this LP.
“Daddy Lessons” is by far the most endearing and catchy song presented on this album. It presents itself as New Orleans style jazz, then brilliantly works into a country hook. This style is so atypical for Beyoncé that it’s almost jarring at first listen, but it works well with the story behind the song: an ode to her Southern father and the lessons he taught her. Even though many of the lyrics are not entirely literal, (the death of her “daddy” is mentioned, though he’s still alive). The country style simply works and plays in so well to the message of the song: watch out for the man you love.
“Love Drought” is summed up by the title itself. Beyoncé continues to hit further that her relationship is struggling as she almost pleas to find a way out of this “drought.” It acts as another transition to the next song, preparing the listener for an emotional next track.
“Sandcastles” uses beautiful piano chords to accompany Beyoncé’s emotive vocals. She’s almost wounded as she sings this ballad, describing their relationship as a sandcastle built to wash away. Although reflective, she is ultimately forward thinking, wondering what comes next.
This is where a striking interlude by British singer James Blake comes in. He sings with Beyoncé, contrasting the conflict shown previously with Jack White in “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” Instead, the duet seeks cooperation to move forward. The album once again transitions beautifully from song to song, moving us into the politically powered “Freedom.”
The message of racial freedom and black empowerment is there at the surface of “Freedom.” While, deeper, an appeal for freedom from her relationship can be seen. Kendrick Lamar crafts a characteristically witty verse using a series of words to countdown his lines into a cry for freedom from oppression.
From here, Beyoncé moves to the spiritual end to the album. Using a sample from Oukast’s SpottieOttieDopaliscious, this funk inspired song describes a relationship torn apart and sewn back together, pushing to fight onwards.
Although the story of the album has ended, one final song remains. “Formation” acts as the credits of the album, in a way, leaving the listeners on an energetic note and asserting herself as a major influence on women everywhere.
The album’s separate pieces are so different individually, but, when tied together, Beyoncé’s message can be heard loud and clear. Her themes of female empowerment and even a dip into politics is present in the album, but the driving force in “Lemonade” is her relationship with her husband and the trials and tribulations that go along with it. Painful at times, Beyoncé’s album is a tumultuous breath of fresh air.