Music Review: Beyoncé - 'Lemonade'

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Ten minutes into Beyoncé’s hour-long HBO special on Saturday night, the thirteen-year reign of music’s power couple threatened to collapse in spectacular fashion. Jay Z, thoughtless adulterer, deserved intense public shaming.

That’s not quite how it played out, of course. Bey stopped short of a scorched earth separation. Not long after she kissed her famous rapper husband on screen, her album released exclusively on the streaming service of which he is part owner.

Still, Lemonade presents a captivating, relatable story. To this point, Beyoncé had been mostly untouchable, pulled from the bubble of humanity into the stars, where her flawless skin and hair were safe from life’s hazards.

Now, she’s down here with us. Relationship issues and internal conflicts are laid bare for our entertainment. Within the confines of an hour, Beyoncé carries us through her personal journey of love, heartbreak, and forgiveness. It’s not a paparazzi-led invasion of privacy or some vague Instagram post. It’s an invitation from the source: raw, honest, and real.

Or is it? For most, Beyoncé’s powerful, heartfelt delivery rubber stamps the authenticity of the lyrics. The hunt for “Becky with the good hair” intensifies by the hour, and Shawn Carter will likely spend the next six months evading the torch and pitchfork mob.

But consider, for a moment, the possibility that Becky is no one in particular. Or that Bey and Jay never shattered dishes during an argument. Or that this album isn’t even about those two in the first place. 

When we treat these songs like sworn affidavits, no room is left for artistic expression. The smoke from our Sherlock Holmes pipes obscures a masterwork in musical storytelling, genuine or not.

The songs don’t just tell a compelling story. They sound good, too. From “Pray You Catch Me” — a powerful, vulnerable opener — to the happy-ending “All Night,” each song on Lemonade serves an essential purpose.

On the radio-ready “Hold Up,” Bey reminds her partner what he risks losing: The baddest woman in the game up in his shee-ee-eehts. The confidence turns threatening on “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” aided by Jack White. Here, Beyoncé’s message is clear:

This is your final warning
You know I give you life
If you try this shit again
You gon’ lose your wife

Beyoncé’s scorn takes a brief recess during the thumping Weeknd track “6 Inch,” a strip club anthem in a world where men aren’t allowed into such establishments. A more traditional Beyoncé sound returns on “Love Drought,” a panicked reaction to the moment love loses its luster.

The relationship mends during “Sandcastles,” a gentle track dripping with metaphors, and the celebratory “All Night” brings this tale to a beautiful apex.

Some albums are remembered for the sheer volume of quality singles on the track list. Others tell great stories, but lack memorable music. Lemonade proves to be a sublime anomaly by excelling in both areas. It is a musical triumph — the standard by which all similar projects will be measured for years to come. |ES|

MusicTim