Reviewing the music on Lemonade
July 8, 2016
Why would anyone cheat on Beyonce? That was the main buzz emanating from the beyhive as Lemonade spilt all over the Internet. Well, the answer could be, unintentionally, contained within the lyrics of an album that is as ambitious as it is overrated.
Over 12 tracks Mrs. Carter unleashes holy hell on her holy matrimony, spewing righteous indignation at having being betrayed by her beloved. From when the antagonist ‘fucked me good’ in the lead single ‘Formation’, to when he fucked her over in the first few tracks of this EP, Beyonce opens her marriage up through her art, exploiting the private pain that became a public shame after her sister lost her shit in that elevator.
What sounds like the firing shots of a break up depletes by the albums end to a sort-of forgiveness. But the health of the Knowles-Carter union seems precarious at best.
For Beyonce seems less concerned about the fact that her husband has betrayed their union, than by the fact that he has betrayed HER. Beyonce. Queen Bey. The self claimed ‘baddest woman in the game’. ‘No average bitch’, ‘a star’ who ‘slays’. She’s ‘not to perfect to feel this worthless’ but – as on and on she goes about how he did her wrong, this supposedly honest album never scrubs off the make-up of a star to reveal the make up of the woman beneath.
From urging her man to ‘give my fat ass a kiss’ to ‘bouncing to the next dick’ and comparing herself to Malcolm X, the album is loaded with lyrical licks that zing. ‘Middle fingers up, put them hands high/Wave it in his face, tell him, boy, bye’ and “Hot sauce in my bag/Swag” have already been elevated into the meme generating pantheon that sorts the wheat of modern pop music from the chaff.
But as titillating as all the insinuation is, we get no real insight into their relationship beyond the tired narrative of him being a cad and her having given ‘top tier, 5 star, backseat lovin… who kept it sexy… and kept it fun’. She muses that she might be missing something, but never bothers to dwell on what it might be. And the failure to ponder her own persona beyond what she has consistently sold to the public means that Becky might have had more than just nice hair to offer.
Ironically, that much discussed lyric, from ‘Sorry’, is one of the albums most open, not for what it tells us about whomever it is Becky is, but for what it tells us about Beyonce, a paranoia about her appearance that is related to her race.
It’s a solitary glimpse at fragility, of humanity, something that is scant on an album that likes to make gloriously grandiose statements about being wronged, being avenged and being the best, but comes up short when it comes to self–perception.
Lemonade is a bold artistic statement, lacking any real singles, bar ‘Six Inch’, her collaboration with The Weekend, which is also arguably Lemonade’s highlight.
‘Daddy Lessons’, a Creole spiced country track that charts the root of her man problems to her adulterous father (who seems to have planted the seeds of mistrust in her relationship with Jay Z, that bloom here), is equally strong, both for its musical diversity and its humanizing of Knowles.
While ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ is a most vehement track, a howl of fury that sees a woman’s scorn reach hurricane strength as her warm front collides with Jack White’s ice-cold one over a wicked Led Zeppelin sample.
But little here will stand the test of time, after the oxygenation of hot gossip flattens out. It’s simply not as strong an album as its predecessor, despite having less poppy filler. It’s exceptionally clever marketing, flipping a relationship narrative on its head. In terms of bringing the concerns of black women into the mainstream, both body and politic, it’s unprecedented.
But it’s failure to reveal much about Mrs. Jody herself, as Millie Jackson did on her magnificent back to back albums Caught Up/Still Caught Up, means the record lacks conviction when it comes to charting how the Carters got their shit together. She sounds unconvincing on the Prince-lite ballad, ‘Sandcastles’, lacking the self-awareness to make such a simplistic metaphor fly.
She sounds uninterested on the dishwater dull ‘Forward’ and sounds uncommitted on the albums real closer, ‘All Night’, as if her exhalations are being delivered through gritted teeth.
In none of these tracks does she give any indication as to why her and Jay Z’s relationship is worth rooting for. How the fury of the albums opening has been tempered remains a mystery, beyond her ladyship deigning to forgive him. Given the height of her rage, are we to assume that, when the baseball bat’s all swung out, she can’t find the strength to leave her man? Or are their certain benefits to being part of a power couple that make the whoremongering ok?
Or perhaps I’m missing the point, and Lemonade ends with the wound healing but still exposed?
Beyonce excels in tracks that gloriously stick it to haters -of her, her race and her gender. She doesn’t shirk from abrasively and defiantly speaking out. But for all its explicitness we really don’t know anything about her, her beliefs or her hurt by Lemonade’s end, which undercuts the honesty accredited to it.
It’s too imperious for something so exploitive. Perhaps Beyonce really is the perfect human, undeserving of the shit she got served. We’ll have to wait to hear Jay Z’s repose to find out. But as zesty as my listens to Lemonade have been, it seems too calculating to be an honest expression of marital strife.
*This is a review of the album on musical terms. I haven’t watched Lemonade