Albums Of The Week

Beyonce's Lemonade is harsh, visceral, compelling

Beyonce (above) addresses infidelity and its consequences in her new album.
Beyonce (above) addresses infidelity and its consequences in her new album.PHOTO: REUTERS

Beyonce stakes her claim as pop royalty with new visual album Lemonade - a potent blend of the personal and the political

She is Beyonce, hear her roar.

Staking her claim as one of the most powerful women in the contemporary pop world, she mashes up the personal and the political into a compelling mix in her latest album, a surprise release over the weekend which is as tentpole as it gets.

Beyonce's narrative throughout is harsh and visceral, the untamed voice of a woman who would not and, could not, stand for her partner's infidelity and the injustices perennially heaped upon black people - the women, in particular ("The most disrespected person in America is the black woman", goes a sample of a Malcolm X quote).

 

Its title declares its intent: It was inspired by her grandmother and Hattie White, grandmother of her husband, hip-hop mogul Jay Z, who is sampled on the album, saying: "I had my ups and downs, but I always found the inner strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade."

While neither Beyonce nor her husband has publicly commented on his rumoured affair that nearly broke their marriage, a good part of her album addresses infidelity and its consequences head-on.

"Who the f*** do you think I is?/ You ain't married to no average b**** boy," she snarls on thumping bruiser Don't Hurt Yourself, as garage rock supremo Jack White guests on production, vocals and bass.

  • R&B/POP

  • LEMONADE

    Beyonce

    Parkwood

    4.5/5 stars

Lemonade is released as a "visual album" comprising a dozen songs and an hour-long filmlet. It is currently available only on streaming service Tidal, which she co-owns.

Brace yoursef for a New Orleans brass/country hybrid; a Led Zeppelin sample and blues-rock swagger sit next to affecting piano ballads and spoken word interludes by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire; and an interpolation of works by a cast as diverse as Southern rapper Soulja Boy to art-rockers Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The short film expands on the vehement nature of the songs. As she mouths the lyrics of Hold Up, Beyonce walks down the street with a smirk on her face, swings a bat at anything from a fire hydrant to several windscreens and, finally, drives a monster truck over a row of unfortunate cars.

"What's worse, lookin' jealous or crazy?" she asks, declaring later that she would "rather be crazy".

Reconciliation comes three quarters into the album. She sounds most vulnerable, voice nearly breaking, on sparse piano ballad Sandcastles ("And your heart is broken cause I walked away/Show me your scars and I won't walk away") as she and Jay Z cuddle in the video, with him looking remorseful.

"True love breathes salvation back into me/With every tear came redemption/And my torturer became a remedy," she croons on the lively ballad, All Night, as brass lines from an Outkast tune blare in the background.

"Go back to your sleep in your favourite spot just next to me" she sings on Forward, doubling her voice with the deep singing tones of British singer-songwriter James Blake.

However, she does not relent on the political stridency first shown on Formation, the early single that made its debut in February, followed by the infamous, black power-themed performance at the Super Bowl half-time show.

"I break chains all by myself," she hollers on Freedom, which features a blistering verse from rapper Kendrick Lamar, another prominent artist acclaimed for giving voice to the grievances of Black America.

She will break the chains her way. Strutting in a corridor engulfed in flames in the film, she uses her stilettoes as a symbol of female empowerment on the baroque-pop pastiche of 6 Inch, featuring The Weeknd.

Sure, you can appreciate the songs without the extended music video, but the artfully directed visuals underline her point - mess with Queen Bey and there is surely hell to pay.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2016, with the headline 'Angry, feisty Queen Bey'. Print Edition | Subscribe