It’s hard to imagine a celebrity rising in popularity from the standards that 2000s Beyoncé held up – having 13 top 10 singles, five No. 1 hits, and three multi-platinum selling records.
However, with this new era of Beyoncé, we’re dealing with a whole new beast. While the chart-toppers haven’t been as plentiful, her relevance in pop culture has increased tenfold.
This rise to becoming a cultural giant all began with the surprise release of her 2013 self-titled record that not only inspired many more artists to take this surprise release route when it came to coming out with an album, but it impressed mainstream audiences and critics alike with her more alternative take on R&B resulting in her most experimental release yet.
So when it came to following up one of the landmark releases of the 2010s, Lemonade had a lot to live up to. Luckily, this new record’s release was very similar to its predecessor—came out of almost nowhere and came with a visual interpretation as well. Now Lemonade just has to do something to separate itself from Beyoncé to truly become a successful, yet separate, entity.
Based on the instrumental palette alone, Lemonade manages to surpass its predecessor by a long shot. While Beyoncé was deeply rooted in R&B and Hip Hop, Lemonade is much more adventurous in its sound, almost to the point of the record sounding too unfocused.
Elements of blues, R&B, hip hop, rock soul, and even some country find themselves on Lemonade in one way or another. These musical ventures seem to go better more often than horrible, which much to the reassurance of the listener is considering how bad a country song by Beyoncé could end up being.
“Daddy Lessons” could’ve fallen into the same kind of gutless, homogenous sound that is modern mainstream country. Instead, we’re given a much dustier, old-school approach to the genre, with a killer melody on the hook to boot. While enough tired western clichés (the “YEEEEEE-HAAAW”s peppered throughout the track definitely weren’t needed) are slipped into the instrumental to be detrimental to the track overall, it gives quite a sense of relief when we could’ve gotten so much worse.
This sense of musical ideas working only based off a wish for miracles is a common feeling throughout the record. Miracles are worked with “Freedom,” a jazz, gospel-esque conscious hip-hop track that takes many queues from To Pimp a Butterfly, given that Kendrick Lamar delivers an OK verse by K-Dot standards, which is still a highlight in the album.
On the other hand, not even Jack White of White Stripes fame and a vengeful performance from Beyoncé could save “Don’t Help Yourself” from being a flaccid attempt at blues rock hindered greatly from the clean production style it was given.
Overall, the changes to the formula are worth appreciation in concept and even execution in a good amount of cases, but sometimes a much more consistent sound palette would’ve been in no doubt appreciated.
Probably for the first time ever, this new Beyoncé record’s most appealing quality isn’t its production or even its production. Where Lemonade truly shines is in its lyrics.
It is Beyoncé’s most conceptual record to date by far, as the majority of the album revolves around one topic: the possible decaying marriage between Beyoncé and husband Jay-Z. The first three-quarters of Lemonade is dedicated to Beyoncé’s struggles with the possibility of her husband’s possible ventures into adultery.
With a claim as bold as this, Beyoncé’s usual shtick of being always in the right as a bold, independent woman. It seems that she realized this as well, since she shows a wide array of emotions.
Whether it’s suspicion (“Pray you Catch Me”), denial (“Hold Up”), or sorrow for lost love and trust (“Sandcastles”), we’re given taken through the feeling of the one you love slowly betraying your trust and devotion.
However, given this is a Beyoncé record, there are a handful of cuts where Beyoncé is her self-assured self. Nowhere is this better showcased than the single “Formation,” where she declares her Southern roots pridefully in one of the best bangers of the past year.
It really shows the versatility Beyoncé has on this record, musically and lyrically. If more artists adapted and improved on this type of diverse yet conceptual album blueprint, we’d be living in a much better pop environment than we are in now.
Album Rating: 7.3/10