Beyonce is such a huge star now that she doesn’t really need to promote her records. After the release of 4 in 2011, Beyonce has shunned the traditional release formula for her albums and it’s paid off for her big time. In 2013 she shocked the world when she released her self-titled album without any warning. There’d be no singles, no announcements and no hype…until it was released that is. Beyonce went on to sell over 5 million copies worldwide and eclipsed the sales of 4 by over 2 million. For her sixth studio album, Beyonce has followed the template set by her previous album releasing it (pretty much) unexpectedly.
As with Beyonce, Lemonade is a ‘visual album’ featuring all-new tracks and a collection of videos to accompany every track. The only difference this time round is that there was actually a single beforehand – Formation. That song hit plenty of headlines after Beyonce debuted it at the Superbowl and it created controversy and speculation when it came to the star’s next music endeavour. Not quite the surprise of Beyonce, Lemonade arrived as a digital only release at the end of April. Shortly after the album received a physical release and since its release Lemonade has topped charts across the world and reaffirmed Beyonce’s status as one of the biggest stars in the world.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Lemonade isn’t the way it arrived, more the subject matter across the album’s 12 tracks. Fans and the media were surprised to find that Lemonade deals with infidelity and building a relationship again once the trust is broken. It’s safe to assume that the lyrics are aimed at Beyonce’s high-profile husband Jay-Z, who allegedly agreed to the album being released after hearing its content. Could this album explain the story behind that infamous elevator incident between Beyonce’s sister Solange and Jay-Z?
It’s actually quite unusual for Beyonce to be so candid in her songs. Much of her music, up to the release of Beyonce, was fairly straight-forward R&B/pop with hip-hop influences. Nothing was all that deep and positivity was pretty much the order of the day. That changed with the left of centre feel of Beyonce and Lemonade goes even further. The album opens with Pray You Catch Me where Beyonce sings of betrayal and hoping to find confirmation that her lover is cheating on her. It’s a stark contrast to the shiny songs usually littered across a Beyonce release.
Lead single Hold Up marries reggae-lite beats with a speak-sing vocal that finds Beyonce singing ‘what a wicked way to treat the girl who loves you’ before revealing a story of paranoia and anger of a woman suspecting she’s been cheated on. From there on out there’s a range of emotions including anger (Don’t Hurt Yourself with Jack White), optimism (Love Drought) and defiance (Sorry). Much has been made about the ‘Becky with the good hair line’ from Sorry with Beyonce’s fans taking to social media to find out who she is referring to.
One of the most interesting songs on the album is the bluesy country of Daddy Lessons. Beyonce sings of the influence her father has had on her life and she draws comparions between him and her husband. It’s well documented that Beyonce’s father Mathew cheated on his wife and that drove a wedge between the father and daughter. Musically it’s one of the most adventurous moments on the album but it’s not quite as ‘Beyonce goes country’ as the original reviews would have you believe.
Elsewhere on the record Beyonce keeps it simple for piano ballad Sandcastles, enlists James Blake for the short song Forward, and sings of forgiveness on the mid-tempo All Night. Closing track Formation feels a little out of place with the rest of the album and doesn’t really fit in with the themes explored prior to its arrival.
Lemonade is accompanied by a DVD (or digital movie depending on your format) that features videos for all of the songs, pulled together in an hour-long movie. Keep your eyes peeled for plenty of celebrity cameos and enjoy the aesthetically interesting and visually stunning footage created by Beyonce and her team.
Whatever the expectation was for Beyonce’s latest album, Lemonade is likely a surprise for everyone. It’s nice to hear Beyonce digging deeper to put some real emotion and human connection into her tracks. At the same time there’s still a part of me that years for the big hits that she used to release in the earlier days of her solo career. Beyonce is clearly at a stage now where her status allows her to do whatever she wants, and Lemonade is a great collection, but I do hope we haven’t seen the last of her big pop hits.
Track Listing: 1. Pray You Catch Me 2. Hold Up 3. Don’t Hurt Yourself 4. Sorry 5. 6 Inch 7. Daddy Lessons 8. Love Drought 8. Sandcastles 9. Forward 10. Freedom 11. All Night 12. Formation Record Company: RCA Release Date: 23rd April 2016 (Digital) 6th May 2016 (CD/DVD)