“I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.” A statement made by Jay Z’s grandmother Hattie White at the end of “Freedom,” the 10th track off Beyoncé’s sixth album, Lemonade, proves to be a poignant theme for the superstar’s latest effort. After the astronomical success of her previous self-titled visual album, Beyoncé has followed up with an album that is far more cohesive and immersive than any of her previous efforts.
Lemonade is as somber as it is aggressive. The album tackles personal matters in a way never before seen on a Beyoncé record, dealing with themes such as heartbreak, infidelity, and empowerment. The opening track, “Pray You Catch Me,” sets the tone for the album. The song broods with heartache as Beyoncé copes with questions about her husband’s faithfulness. This begs the question — what exactly is Jay Z doing?
As the album progresses, the tracklist tells a tale of Beyoncé coming to terms with betrayal and ultimately accepting the person she loves. “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is an anger-ridden number in which we hear Beyoncé actually yelling at her lover to treat her better. The track, which is produced by and features Jack White, is a collaboration that makes for a thrilling ride.
Lemonade’s strengths come from the megastar’s true emotions shining through the polished production. Songs such as the raw piano ballad “Sandcastles” and “Sorry” — the unapologetic ode to “Becky with the good hair” — show just how powerful the 34-year-old can be when she has a reason to sing.
“Hold Up,” co-written with Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig, proves to be one of the album’s biggest highlights, with it’s tropical sound and condescending lyrics. If I can take one thing away from Lemonade, it’s that I should probably never cheat on Beyoncé (not that any sane person ever would).
The album’s visual elements also help make this the strongest and most political showing of Beyoncé’s artistry yet. The Lemonade film counterpart explores Beyoncé’s roots as an African-American woman, tackles her commentary on modern day society, and shines a light on her marriage as a 34-year-old icon.
The film plays as a set of music videos that seamlessly transition into one another, with the singer reciting poetry over breathtaking scenery in between songs. It’s a clear display that Beyoncé is able to grow and improve, as now her previous visual album feels outdated, and even to an extent, below her standards.
While her previous effort BEYONCÉ was made to be her standard, Lemonade takes her standards and flips them on their head. The lyrics are strong, her voice even stronger. Lemonade is the singer’s strongest showing, bringing forth the best of both her artistry and her political stances. The lead single “Formation” serves as the album’s closing track, as a way to celebrate the person she is after losing and finding love again. And if Beyoncé is celebrating herself, the world will promptly follow — because it is her world after all, isn’t it?
5 out of 5 stars.
— Jake Johnson, Music Blogger