Few artists know how to command the world’s attention like Beyoncé. Even though the release of ‘Formation’ had already tipped listeners off to the impending arrival of her new record, premiering the set as a surprise visual album on HBO was a stroke of marketing genius. Plus the contents of the album effortlessly served as a built-in promotional tool, feeding the public’s insatiable appetite for celebrity drama, and guaranteeing an avalanche of social media chatter that would make it impossible for anyone with Internet access to ignore the fact that a new Beyoncé record had hit the shelves (or, more accurately, had been made exclusively available on her husband Jay Z’s streaming service Tidal). Beyoncé is clearly a terrific business woman, but ultimately the undeniable thing about the new disc is that Lemonade truly is a terrific pop album.
A strong collection of 12 tracks, the diva’s sixth studio release finds her singing about cheating, betrayal, anger, hurt, healing, and reconciliation while celebrating womanhood as well as her African-American and Southern heritage.
A host of collaborators are on hand to help shape these songs, with contributions and samples from a wide musical spectrum coming together to form a genre-spanning brew. The ease with which Beyoncé incorporates other people’s talents into her vision makes the resulting effort feel seamless and proves that an artist can retain her identity while creating with other musicians.
There is conviction in every word she sings; you believe her when she sounds wounded on the opener ‘Pray You Catch Me’ and lashes out at the object of her ire in ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’, a fierce rocker featuring the ever-awesome Jack White. The wickedly catchy ‘Hold Up’ borrows a line from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ‘Maps’ and also gives writing credit to artists as diverse as Joshua Tillman (a.k.a Father John Misty) and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. ‘Freedom’, a stomping anthem of resilience, includes a guest verse from Kendrick Lamar and is one of the album’s finest cuts.
Whether she is working with James Blake (‘Forward’) or the Weeknd (‘6 Inch’), channelling her inner rock goddess with a little help from White or going country on ‘Daddy’s Lessons’, Beyoncé continuously benefits from her ability to recognize other artists’ strengths and make them work for herself, and remains fully in-charge of her own narrative.
Throughout Lemonade, her voice shines, communicating both her confidence and vulnerability on what is probably her best album to date. With arrangements that range from sparse and intimate to bold and dramatic, this is a diverse, yet cohesive record and whether it was fuelled by personal troubles or not, her musical journey comes off as heartfelt and sincere. You don’t have to be a fan of R&B to appreciate just how well-crafted this project is. There is range, depth, and emotional resonance here that few of the singer’s peers can equal, and that’s what makes Lemonade a near-perfect pop album and one of the standout releases of the year so far.