Beyoncé is at a point where she’s beginning a new chapter in her career. Much like Kanye West earlier this year with The Life Of Pablo, she’s at a point where being one of the biggest celebrities in the world gives her the opportunity to make art where the context of their own life becomes embroiled with the art itself. Yet unlike Kanye, Beyoncé is actually very hushed up about her life. The only thing that everyone knows is that she’s married to Jay-Z and they have one daughter together. Yet it’s this marriage that informs a massive proportion of her new album, Lemonade, and makes it one of the most powerful and cohesive projects she’s releases thus far – another thing Kanye failed to do in many ways on The Life Of Pablo.
As the next chapter in Beyoncé’s career begins, Lemonade feels like a natural second step, as it feels like a direct follow on to her brilliant 2013 self-titled album, as well as being her second ‘Visual album’ – an album which had every song was accompanied by a video. Her last album was ambitious, yet most people fawned over the music itself and the way in which it was a surprise release over the visual side of it. Lemonade takes the visual element of her last album, and transforms it into easily one of the most encapsulating parts of the experience this project delivers.
Unlike her last album which was bursting with the confidence that being in love gives someone, Beyoncé shows vulnerability on this album. She details the feelings of confusion, self-doubt, anger and jealousy that occur when you fear that someone you love might be cheating on you. A theme that’s tied together by subjects like gender and parenthood. The visuals for Lemonade are essential. The spoken word interludes between the songs on this album on the hour-long film are pure poetry, filled with vivid imagery that give the songs that follow so much context. They can be unsettling when describing the precise thoughts that go through ones’ mind when picturing a partner with someone else. They can be heartfelt and touching when Beyoncé talks of her heritage and parents before the song ‘Daddy Lessons’. They can be spiritual when talking of forgiveness and moving on before ‘Sandcastles’ plays. The story portrayed in the film package is nothing less than stunning, and the visuals are always striking and necessary.
This isn’t to say that the album doesn’t stand on its own two feet without the visuals. Lemonade isn’t as immediately rewarding as her last album, yet it’s her most simultaneously varied and streamlined album even without the film itself. In many ways it tones down the Hip-Hop influence of her last album and sees her trying her hand at more sombre tones. They’re often performed gorgeously on songs like ‘Sandcastles’ which has her vocals stealing the show. Her voice strains as she cries, singing of trying to erase the memory of someone who might have tried to steal her husband from her.
Elsewhere she tries her hand at Country on ‘Daddy Lesson’s as she taps into her heritage, she sound blends sinister vocals with Frank Ocean-esque melodies on ‘Six Inch Heals’ and blends production that wouldn’t sound far off something Battles would do, with her incredibly angry vocals on ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’. The only song that sticks out like a sore thumb for being so apart from the album in style is the lead single ‘Formation’, which does end up acting as a brilliantly bombastic closer for the album.
Unlike Rihanna and Kanye, whose recent albums felt like a lot of creativity with no real ideas on how to portray them in an album, every theme and song on this album feels as long as it should and as fleshed out as it should. Beyoncé has created a smooth narrative that exists both with and without the spoken-word commentary. There is a clear arc as Beyoncé details the feelings when she’s first getting suspicions of her partner being unfaithful, to the anger and self-doubt that follows, to tracing her steps backwards in her family for advice, to the final act of redemption and forgiveness.
Although Beyoncé gets a pass from most people for simply being Beyoncé, and this album does have its flaws like the song ‘Freedom’ which sounds a little too cluttered and advert-ready, there’s enough on this project when viewing it as a whole package to justify the acclaim.
Beyoncé lets her social life impact her music so heavily in this, yet even if you don’t care for her persona, there’s plenty of material that’s universally relatable. This album is deeply touching and very affective. It may not have the remix power that a lot of the songs on her last album did, but it has the staying power thematically.