Few artists in the world reap success and praise like Beyonce. She despises debtors like a loan shark, kills bugs like an exterminator and jumps in the club like a pole vaulter. Without needing to artificially reinvent herself between every album like Kylie, Madonna or Lady Gaga, the Queen B emits hits with verve, panache and unbridled vulnerability.
In 2014, Beyonce broke the music release paradigm by releasing her selftitled opus sans warning. It was a modern R&B masterpiece, cementing her move from girl group starlet though hip-hop parvenu to baroque pop artisan extraordinaire. What can a diva do after such an audacious grasp at celebrity — it’s hard to top lyrics like “Foreplay in the foyer, fucked up my Warhol” from Drunk In Love — why, release your next album as a soundtrack to an HBO film, naturally.
Lemonade — the title itself denotes sweet refreshment squeezed from the most bitter of condiments — is a dark and brooding reflection on the nature of womanhood, African American identity, Southern culture, the failure of Reconstruction, loneliness, desperation and, ultimately, optimism. The film has a loose as liquid narrative but breathtaking visuals and a grandiose deployment of colour (and lack thereof) to depict mood. Water imagery is a constant theme: Beyonce jumps from a building in a pseudo-suicidal leap into a sunken bedroom to introduce the infidelity motif and, at the coda, leads a cultish procession of submissive wives in a march into the sea. Death before dishonour. Drown before being disowned. A line of women choosing the fluidity of the uncertain sea over the patriarchal land. It’s sentimental but it is also poignant and visually stunning. The cinematography is outstanding.
The music is good too. Much as been made of the adultery that Jay-Z apparently engaged in to inspire this record and infuse its lyrics but one should demur from reading too much into that. A film about philandering does not connote a breakdown in the screenwriter’s marriage so why must a song or indeed an album be literal? Art is a lie to reflect the truth, Picasso was quoted in a recent Jeopardy! clue as once saying, and that truth can be universal rather than unilateral. It doesn’t matter if Jay-Z cheated or not, all that matters is the verisimilitude of the emotions being expressed. In that regard, Lemonade is effervescent.
(song titles in caps)
We open on Beyonce clothed in the same deer that Leo slept in from The Revenant. A good start.
Beyonce sings the James Blake infused PRAY YOU CATCH ME in a delightful hoodie that zips all the way up the skull. Dream Big is in ink.
The suicidal dive into the sunken bathroom is a yearning for a return to the womb, heightened by Beyonce inhaling the bubbles.
Sublime HOLD UP is a phantasmagoria of Diplo, Vampire Weekend, Father John Misty, a jonquil quilt and a B-B-Baseball bat. Outstanding!
Something utterly mesmerising about watching a B&W Beyonce monster trucking over a colonnade of parked cars. No porte-cochere big enough.
Jack White and Led Zeppelin bring the riffs on DON’T HURT YOURSELF — a facsimile of Another Way To Die — but with a Malcolm X interlude.
Must admit I never expected such expletive laden clumsy poetry when rocking out to Bug-a-Boo back in the last millennium. SORRY.
Track called 6 INCH with Weeknd guesting should be a lot a better! The red philtre is blood from a stiletto blade, one assumes.
DADDY LESSONS is a powerful reflection on masculinity and a struggle for identity in a post-gender roles society. With bluegrass!
Beyonce alone in a cavernous football stadium is a vivid spectacle; the perfect visual for LOVE DROUGHT. Cultish march into the sea is a worry.
SANDCASTLES is a luscious, pared back ode to fantasies fomented in our naive days. Reminds me a lot of that Robin Sparkles song.
No escaping the antebellicose sartoria permeating Lemonade. Heartbreaking FORWARD suggests a second holocaust borne of a different slavery.
Bold and brash, juxtaposing the trappings of plantation life w/ inextinguishable soul, FREEDOM is spectacular, even sans Kendrick.
The water imagery denotes the fluidity of our life and loves, the black and white moral absolutism. Colour = acceptance of human failings.
ALL NIGHT shows Beyonce and Jay-Z getting matching IV (4) tatts, which is interesting because that’s also street lingo for smack (IV drug).
The fantastic FORMATION plays over the end credits. A fine baroque pop achievement. The music is better than the film.