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Beyonce’s “Lemonade” Reviewed

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Released last night, Beyonce’s sixth album Lemonade is now streaming, both the visual and aural album. On Tidal. Yes, I re-upped with Tidal to get my hands on The Life Of Pablo, and for ten bucks a month have maintained it ever since. And I am glad I did, with Prince’s death I had easy access to his catalog, answering the musical question as to why I don’t want to search through my CDs anymore to find his back catalog. Because it is hard work.

So I woke up to an email from Tidal and rushed to their site, started with the visual album, but I am too much of a multi-tasker for that, plus there is lots of spoken word interrupting the songs. She looks incredible anyway and at some point soon I’ll check out the HBO special (a one hour teaser) and watch the visual album, but for right now I went to the album.

Beyonce is too good to be able to absorb quite that quickly, and as time goes by, Lemonade will  spend as much time as possible in heavy rotation.

But is it any good?

It is a masterpiece.

The follow up to Beyonce, isn’t so mysterious, a close up look at Mrs. Carter and her fraught with betrayal and love relationship with her husband Jay Z, it is what it is and it would be great if only for the horns on “Open All Night”. With featured performances by Kendrick Lamar, Jack White, The Weeknd and, wait for it, James Blake, they all justify their presence by adding a dimension that wasn’t there.before. The Blake collab on “Forward” especially, with his terrific falsetto front and center and no Bey vocal at all, uses him to explore electronica, something a tech wiz like Bey knows but uses to different ends. And it is followed by a centerpiece near the edge, the Kendrick double up “Freedom” a world class funk worker, with a great Lamar verse, and 808s smacking you about. Man, what a song.

At the halfway mark, Bey discovers the correct use of the Weeknd, who sounds older and more controlled than on his album: he is all dark mood and haunted sounds on “6 Inch”, a working class Bey. Earlier still “Pray You Catch Me” is an arty not a great opener (not bad but not “Pretty Hurts”), a song about infidelity which has the sting of truth. It leads you to a song that is actually better than “XO”: “Hold On” uses a sample from “I Can’t Get Used To Losing You” to devastating effect on one of her greatest songs ever. It is as good as “Irreplaceable”. It is as good as “1 + 1”. But it isn’t the money shot , that would be a  huge ballad that is also very quiet, a lone piano and a Gospel back up choir, “Sandcastles”.

So this album feels very much like a state of the marriage snapshot, an inside look at marriage and betrayal with Judas Jay Z (who doesn’t appear on the album, neither does Blue Ivy except for a line after “Daddy’s Lessons”) being strapped to an emotional gurney as Bey explains what every woman understands viscerally, infidelity is not a victimless crime, and crimes are punished.  Back at the end, “Formation”, the only explicitly political track, closes the album on a different footing. It doesn’t really fit though I worship the sucker myself.

This is Beyonce’s third brilliant album in a row, from Four to Beyonce to Lemonade, it is the sort of run Drake hasn’t  done yet, and places her near Kanye West territory. She is one of the greats.

Grade: A

 

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