Beyoncé, "Lemonade" Album Review
-No alleged "king" can rise above the Matriarch of Pop.
In the hot summer of 1987, the manically-anticipated follow-up album to what later became the best-selling album of all time was released by Epic Records. Though all the excitement and decade-dominating, elite quality of that project, Bad was widely regarded as a disappointing sequel to the GOAT record, which famously unleashed the creative behemoth also known as the King of Pop. Years later the album is still scrutinized and deemed as a product which failed to live up to its anticipation, its impact belittled in light of the record that introduced some of the most recognizable songs of all time. What can't be questioned or even debated, however, is how the icon, then absolutely on top, was finally able to fully cut loose on Bad. Serving as the primary composer and co-producer of the project, the then-29-year-old had been under massive pressure from the increasing exposure of his personal life, inevitable maturity and failing romances. Truthfully, any result was doomed to disappoint a few, but Bad was the pivotal point of Jackson's dazzling career as it was the project that most accurately, ambitiously and aggressively represented everything there was about him, his internal battles as well as his external struggles he had to endure both at that moment and throughout his life. If Thriller granted MJ the crown, Bad was what was going to keep it on his head for eternity. Bad is the album that still has us chanting "King of Pop" today at the club. Bad is the album that has us consistently grieving over the grim impossibility of a rightful heir to the throne.
Almost 30 years later today, in a sigh of triumphant relief, we witness this grief dispelled like dark fume in crisp autumn air. With the release of Lemonade on April 23rd, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter has officially achieved a status very, very few individuals in the pop music world have ever achieved, and I'm not talking commercial success or fanbase or the noise making. It seems the artist that created this mind-boggling project has survived a phase of unthinkable creative explosion, one that we can see was extremely emotionally depleting as well as artistically suffocating, and now the Yoncé is at an aptitude miles above, far deep into the clouds of divine musicality. This is a project that in all ways--thematically, sonically and stylishly--is coming to destroy all the other records that come out this month, maybe all the rest of the year, with malicious intent.
I have not been this excited after hearing a chart-topping project in a long time. Returning to her songwriting roots, Beyoncé has crafted out a album full of melodious, self-conscious, honest songs with conflicting emotions, edgy narratives and confrontational lyrics under a overarching concept. Opening track "Pray You Catch Me" is more of a statement than it is merely a track, starting off with layered, rhythmic vocal chanting by the Bey, what sounds like a self-embracing and relaxing vocal warmup. Accompanied by minimal percussion, a straightforward piano progression and atmospheric orchestral sounds, the intro then transformed into introspecting lyrics: "When it's only in my memory, it don't hit me quite the same... Maybe it's a cause for concern," as the singer takes a deep look into her relationship. The starting track is an agonizing ballad that enunciates Beyoncé's purpose for this album, one of emancipation and sophistication. Yes, she does not have to start the album off with a club banger if she doesn't want to. It can be a subdued moan of relationship struggles, if the Queen Bey so chooses.
Bey sure kept a few elements that've previously been proven to work and potentially be her signature sound on this record. "Hold Up", a stubborn yet humorous claim of the queen's sovereign over her lover, is a minimalist sound with contradicting lively energy, one similar to this one. The narrative is accompanied by a repetitious chord progression and a catchy hook with very little backup vocals, heightening the message that there is only one woman who deserves to be with this man, and he'd better cherish her with all that he's got. "Love Drought" is a powerful, quiet-storm blast of sensuality, in which the singer exclaims her desires and impulse in a fashion that can only be described as Marvin-Gaye-esque. The tripling/quadrupling of her head voice burst of warmth and steaminess, as her classic brand of bass-heavy composition resonates with the pulse of the listener. The soul-influenced, Saadiq-like "All Night" is an homage to soul legends, which employs emphatic, heavily-echoed electric guitar strumming to stomp along with our tapping feet, and a horn section escorts the climatic chorus while a quiet orchestra lays down a foundation nostalgic and reminiscent of the Motown greats.
If Sasha Fierce was supposed to be the album of exploration to different sides of musical personality, Lemonade is the project that seeks no definition to the artistic identity as it can't be confined within a mere name. Along with the raw mixing on the drums, Beyoncé gets hardcore on "Don't Hurt Yourself", threatening with contempt *whomever she's supposed to be dissing*. Holy smokes, this might be the first time I've ever been genuinely scared by Beyoncé. She displays so much versatility on this track by breaking out a legit hard, rock & roll number, cursing and shit 100% comfortably, and pulling it off. Maybe she's singing to everyone who doesn't like this track, growling and screaming: you think you got me figured out, but "I'm just too much for you", and "boy bye". On "Sorry", the narrative from the previous song carries on, as the Queen Bey stands firmly beside her unforgiving and unapologetic persona. The track taps into a trap-and-EDM hybrid realm all the while remaining melodic, and in the final minute switches into an distorted, percussion-focused finale as the track fades out. The slow-paced and sincere piano ballad "Sandcastle" is an almost unbearable stream of emotions, where Bey laments the futility and frustration that reside within a relationship. A slightly hoarse Beyoncé breaks loose of her invincible persona and completely lets out her vulnerability, and sorrow flows uncontrollably, the album all of a sudden soaked in heartache.
Let's lastly talk about the very highlights for me. It hasn't been entirely clear whether Beyoncé is an advocate for sampling methods in her music, but the big-time nod to "Walk on By" by the late great Isaac Hayes in "6 Inch" certainly suggests that her musical horizon is only beginning to be expanded. A track that screams "theatric" and features a complex range of musical characteristics, "6 Inch" both exploits the pop phenomenon of the trap fever and utilizes some impressive multi-sectional writing, intricate vocal layering and successful blending of both the audio and the concept of the sample. Although there are very few things music-wise I find more distasteful than the mind-numbingly tedious voice of The Weeknd and his grossly one-dimensional motifs, this song is one of the high points of the record. "Daddy Lessons" is another example of expression of artistic freedom at its best, one track that brings Southern Blues, Folk Jazz and Country all together. The acoustic guitar-driven song features a Beyoncé returning to her Texas roots and introduces some funky horns in this tribute to the singer's father. In contrary to it being sonically hopeful and chipper, the seemingly groovy track has however a hidden message that is darker and more sorrowful. Then finally, "Freedom", the marching scream of liberation, a blues-influenced exclaim of power, a boisterous outcry of dominance, is where the queen takes charge at a socially conscious motif in a tribute to black history. It's powerful, agitated, unapologetic, climatic and emphatic. The incredible sonic elements make it easier to neglect the lyrics, but they are regardless as dynamic as ever: "I'm telling these tears, 'go and fall away, fall away'. May the last one burn into flames." Poetic ambition at full display.
The anticipation of follow-up projects is fundamentally an invasive solicitation. It's ironic what is demanded of an artist who has accomplished so much in their previous creation can be incredibly limiting, irrational and frankly insulting. Such demand takes a more severe form when the artist is Michael Jackson, or Beyoncé, whose fame ludicrously overshadows their art. Yet all art should faze no mere expectation. I remember when the self-titled album came out unannounced at a midnight during the winter of 2013. I was in college, and I distinctly remember there were people screaming at the top of their lungs in the hallways of my dorm. That album was widely acclaimed and played the entire year of 2014. A year and a half later, Lemonade has been released. And it is the pop royalty's absolute best work up to date. I haven't read much of other reviews and remain knowledge-less about what critics and fans have been saying comparing Lemonade to Beyoncé and 4, but this is the year Queen Bey officially outshines all mainstream talents. Nobody else stands a chance.
And sorry, she's not sorry.
The King of Pop is no longer alive and his throne has been empty for years. The debates, the arguments, the convos fill the air of the music realm. Who's the new King of Pop, who's at least the closest to him, are we ever going to get one. Let's face it: there is no new King of Pop, there is no heir, and there needn't be in the slightest, because we're in good hands. No alleged "king" can rise above the Matriarch of Pop.
Yes I'm officially coining this term. Yoncé holla at me.