So, it inevitably turns out that the “mysterious” Beyoncé HBO special was the premiere of her second visual album.
Unlike her first surprise release – the patchy self-titled Beyoncé album from 2013 – Lemonade can’t make the same shock impact again. Good job, then, that Beyoncé’s sixth album is the most complete of her career.
Ironically for an album frustratingly only available to stream on Tidal, Lemonade is firmly divided into two themed sides. The first six songs are furious kiss-offs to a cheating partner. Grinding vocals and fabulously filthy grooves dominate.
The second batch are more conciliatory, ballads dominating and climaxing in the euphoric slow jam All Night. If side one is Run The World, side two is Halo.
Musically, Lemonade runs for 45 minutes. The film lasts 70, but only on a pretentious segue between murder fantasy 6 Inch and the New Orleans jazz of Daddy Lessons does the movie drag.
The visual high point comes early in second song Hold Up – handed a baseball bat as she strides along a bustling high street, a smiling Beyoncé twirls it for a minute before unleashing mighty vengeance on a string of parked cars. The look of glee as she strides off is magnificent, musical rebellion writ large.
The fact that Hold Up is one of the stand-out tracks helps. A klaxon-heavy dancehall swayer, Diplo refines his entire arsenal into a fiercely addictive groove for Beyoncé to coo “Hold up, they don’t love you like I love you” in one of her mightiest choruses.
Hold Up follows the subtle intro track Pray You Catch Me. A soft, simple ballad, it introduces the revenge theme. What follows Hold Up is another high, as Jack White makes a cameo on the tricksy drum march of Don’t Hurt Yourself.
Probably Lemonade’s boldest empowerment statement, White squeals “Love God herself” as Beyoncé looks as if she wants to off anyone in a five-mile radius.
The old-school R&B romp of Sorry is almost as powerful. Far from sorry at all, its “Middle fingers up” chorus will become sung at hen parties everywhere by the time May is out. You have been warned.
The message of sex worker revenge banger 6 Inch is subtler. But its relentless filthy groove is straight to the point, reminiscent of Grace Jones’ Slave To The Rhythm in its harsh and upfront attack.
If it wasn’t for lines like “My daddy had his right hand on his rifle”, the gorgeous jazz sway of Daddy Lessons would be the song most likely to be aped by X Factor and Voice contestants. Its sumptuous and simple melody masks a powerful warning of just how Beyoncé came to feel so powerful.
Lemonade’s low point, filler ballad Love Drought, follows before the slowies get into gear with Sandcastles. That’s the one all-out piano ballad for anyone yearning for another Halo. James Blake’s helium vocals on Forward feel like they’re starting to be just as epic, before the song abruptly stops after 79 seconds.
It ushers in Kendrick Lamar collab Freedom, where the tempo kicks back up over a stomping, howling 60s garage-rock menace. Lamar’s fuming cameo is the album’s best moment among the collaborations, who are subtly weaved into Beyoncé’s message. Rather than dominating and feeling showy, the big names here serve the song.
“Lemonade isn’t in any way compromised or compromising. Baseball bats at the ready, it’s album of the year”
The blissed-out All Night feels like Lemonade’s main set closer, with the film at its most personal. It’s the only one starring Jay-Z, shown playing American football with Ivy Blue amongst footage of their wedding and Beyoncé’s baby bump.
The end credits roll, before the only already-familiar video of Formation ends Lemonade on a high. That already much-discussed video takes matters full circle. It also reminds listeners of what an angry, powerful message Beyoncé is sending out here.
Only making Lemonade available on Tidal is a massive mistake. Everyone should be able to easily see and hear a superstar at the very top of their game. Lemonade isn’t in any way compromised or compromising. In every way, it’s a powerful assault. Baseball bats at the ready, Beyoncé just made the album of the year so far.