Lemonade (released April 23, 2016)
At 8 p.m. central on Saturday night, my wife’s eyes were fixated on Beyonce’s mysterious HBO special “Lemonade,” essentially an hourlong visual interpretation of her new album. She studied every image — from the bizarre to the beautiful — and soaked in every note. Not saying one word.
By 9:10 p.m. central, she had moved to our bedroom, alone. The door was shut but the same songs that were just featured on HBO were now blaring from her speakers.
Me? I just sat in the living room catching up on wrestling on my DVR. Fellas, you’ve gotta know when to let women have their time.
That night was all about Beyonce. And black womanhood.
Twitter conspiracy theorists spent the evening attempting to decode the messages behind the film’s haunting visuals and bitter lyrics. Social media loves to dwell on the negative: Trust me, the message is much bigger than alleged marital issues and whoever Becky Wit Da Gud Hair is.
Lemonade, Beyonce’s sixth studio album, encompasses the totality of womanhood — the bitter and the sweet, not just the juicy drama.
“Pray you Catch Me” is a sorrowful open letter, where a despondent Bey says she “can taste the dishonesty” seeping from her man. It’s a far cry from the carefree days of Freekum Dresses and Green Lights. Beyonce’s a grown woman now, those childish days of destiny are long behind.
In fact, practically the first half of the album is a venomous response to love gone wrong. Bey rides the riddims of “Hold Up,” shaking her head as she says “what a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you.” “Sorry” is bound to be the breakup anthem of 2016 that melds defiance (“Suck on my balls, I’ve had enough”) and disbelief (“I pray the Lord you reveal what is truth is.”). You might as well use a staple gun to rivet it to radio playlists. You’ll be hearing it for a LONG time.
But “Don’t Hurt Yourself” might be the most brash of them all. On a teeth-rattling rock track, Bey teams with Jack White from The White Stripes to put her man, and the world, on notice: “Who the f*** you think I am/You ain’t married to no average b**** boy.” Bey sounds like she’s been drinker Ether by the liter. The message here is clear: “When you hurt me, you hurt yourself … Don’t hurt yourself.”
Of course, there is more to a woman than her rage. “Daddy Lessons” incorporates New Orleans jazz to tell the story of how her father built her to be a woman that’s stronger than he could ever be. In a world where fathers are fingered as the downfall of black families, Bey uplifts them through their faults. And “6 Inch” is an ode to the working woman, those that are “too smart to crave material things,” marching through corporate America in her heels. A hot buttered soul sample of Issac Hayes’ “Walk on By” just makes it that much sweeter.
A few of the album’s later tracks fail to land with the same impact, however. “Love Drought” is a little too wispy and gets lost in itself. The minimalistic piano ballad “Sandcastles” is fine but never hits that second gear to drive its message home. It doesn’t hit nearly as hard as the shackle-shattering “Freedom” with its simple message: “A winner don’t quit on themselves.”
Quite frankly, Lemonade isn’t an easy listen — the themes are heavy, Beyonce’s vocal delivery drastically switches from track to track and the soundscapes are a virtual kaleidoscope of genres. But unlike Bey’s peers Kanye West and Rihanna — both of whom have pushed musical boundaries in recent releases — Lemonade never sounds disjointed or off course. Bey’s clearly in control the entire time.
The album appropriately ends with “Formation,” the song that caused needless fervor when America realized that, gasp, it was an anthem for black women. Likewise, Lemonade is an album by a black woman for black women — the rest of us are spectators at best. It’s an audio depiction of their faults, their struggles and their victories.
This is their story.
As Jay Z’s grandmother reminds listeners at the end of “Freedom,” black women have long been overwhelmed by life’s lemons. Lemonade is their sweet relief.
Before I hit publish on this review, I asked my wife what she thought of the album. She said she enjoyed it but that it unleashed so many emotions that she hadn’t had time to process them all. She didn’t want to read any exhaustive think pieces or engage in Twitter debates about it, she just wanted to process it. She promised to talk about it later.
I’m not rushing. This is her album, after all.
Best tracks: “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” “Sorry,” “Pray You Catch Me”
4 stars out of 5