13 May 2016

Beyoncé - Lemonade

When it comes to announcements and surprise albums, the end of April and beginning of May 2016 is going to go down as one of the most surprising periods.  Whether you like it or not, Beyoncé releasing an album on the public is always going to be a news worthy event to many people.  For me, she is a global brand who has always had a great production team, released some fantastic singles and she is also an artist who (in my eyes) is yet to release a consistent album that does not contain too much filler to the hits.  I am not saying that to mock Beyoncé; hell, the albums have mostly been number one's around the world, but does that mean they work all the way through?  Well, on this album Beyoncé has launched it with a HBO TV special.  There has been speculation that some of the events of this album are based on real life event in Mrs Carter's life with Jay-Z; this is not something that I would really want to go into as a) I don't really care and b) it is not the place of this blog to facilitate the gossip machine around the world.  What we are here to do, is to see if this is the first consistent Beyoncé album - let us find out......
Starting the album is a multi-layered vocal effect which mixes Beyoncé's vocals around with a synth bass until an organ comes in with more Beyoncé singing like whispers in the wind.  “Pray You Catch Me” is a song where it seems that the nightmares of the long dark night of soul searching after the suspicions of infidelity and discords in a marriage (it is not for this blog to say one way or another if there is anything is really going on with the marriage of Beyoncé & Jay Z, that is for gossip columns), the song itself is a long way away from happier times which the singer experienced and you can hear the vulnerability and strength behind the works.  It is one of the strongest tracks I have heard from this lady in a long time for my own musical tastes, the subject matter of wanting to find out the truth and the hurt that will follow is one that people can relate too in this slow and atmospheric piece that is very minimal in terms of music; it prefers to layer the strings, have the vocals all tightened up and the bass is lower and mournful, with the song ending with a question for the truth.  “Hold Up” is a strange song, mainly because it contributions from Erza Koenig from Vampire Weekend and Father John Misty (who confirmed he wrote the first verse).  Musically it has some crazy music in a Vampire Weekend style, with a production job from Diplo gives the strange mixture of alternative folk sounds, hip hop undertones and one hell of a ‘what in the living fuck are you doing’ message to the love of your life.  It is a statement of honesty and the situation with a few home truths being laid at the feet of the person who strayed from the relationship.  The subtext is huge as it uses samples from “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” by Andy Williams, featuring hints of Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Maps” and Soulja Boy and the song “Turn My Swag On”, something which could be lost on a few people; but once you hear it, you cannot under hear it which is much like the truth of this album.  There are some moments of vulnerability in the mix as well, but the honesty in this song (truthful or manufactured) is something that people will identify with once again.  It is not someone trying to be hip and back on the street, it is someone trying to get to the truth.  Featuring Mr Jack White, “Don’t Hurt Yourself” mixes that organic rock sound that Jack White can get right, with a hint gospel and then a huge dose of ‘fuck you, get your shit together or I am going to fuck shit up and you can watch me go with whoever the fuck I want’ explosions throughout the song.  Screaming ‘who the fuck do you think I am’ is mixed in with samples from Led Zeppelin “When the Levee Breaks” and goes along with the theme of infidelity and the expected explosion of anger that was going to happen at one point or another.  There is no place to hide on this song, it is a ball of fury that is coming down hard on someone very soon and may the deity have mercy on their soul.  It is such an angry song, one of the best on the album, it is a genre crossing piece which will sadly not making it onto mainstream radio without a hell of a lot of editing – but I would keep it in, show the power of this number.  “Sorry” is the song where you are going out and say enough is enough, the fuck you attitude is out there and going out is the call of the day.  There is a lot of ‘I ain’t thinking about you’ attitude to this song, which might be the case or it could all be a front to defend the protagonist of the song.  I love the attitude here, but it still has a sad undertone to the record and it makes you wonder who this Becky is that is mentioned at the end of the song.

Featuring The Weeknd (I so wish that he had added that extra ‘e’ to the name, just my OCD there) the song “6 Inch” which is all about being empowered and ladies being the ones in control of their own destiny, making the money themselves and the struggles that come with this life.  It is a strong number lyrically, musically it is the first number on the album which does not really do anything for me.  Using pieces of “My Girls” by Animal Collective, the bass is heavy and it has some moments that should be giving a euphoric lift to the struggle that is happening, but it passes me by; it is a good song, but the first four were such a stealer collective that it leaves this first single behind in the dust for me.  “Daddy Lessons” is the half way point of this album, with a brass section, clapping and a country vibe to the song; it explorers the similarities between husbands and fathers at times, the failures and strengths and it makes no secret that neither of them are perfect.  It is a strong number that shows the lessons that are taught and being strong; some of it is fiction and some of it true, much like any good story that is told.  It is a decent number, I am not hearing what I would call country in the song as it has too much of the New Orleans sound mixed in for it to be an out and out country number – just saying Texas does not make something Country, but it is also a good number that people will identify with in ways that are not going to be apparent to everyone.  “Love Drought” is about a relationship that lacks trust, but both people are still fighting for it to work.  It has an interest synth section which is provided by Kanye West producer Mike Dean, drifting in the breeze whilst the bass is searching for the lower reaches of audio sound.  Unlike “6 Inch”, the music is better than the lyrics on this one for me; it is another decent number that is good for what it is and I would not mind if it came on, but I prefer the first four songs of the album and I would not rush to play this one again.  “Sandcastles” is a ballad of acceptance, reflection and a sort of acceptance/forgiveness to the situation.  It is one of those standard numbers that Ms B can do in her sleep, it has the passion of experience behind the lyrics and the video which accompanies the song is a strong statement of both reflection and remembrance.  You can see the couple start to head back together at this point, the connections and realisation that one cannot be without the other are falling into place; it is a gentle number which I had been expecting from the second number onwards, but I am quite glad it is towards the end of the album as forgiveness should not come too soon for this album.

With James Blake, “Forward” is the shortest song on this album and unlike “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, there is a harmony to the vocals when Beyoncé enters the song.  The male and female vocals are intertwined and not in conflict, they are moving together in sequence.  It is a good number, it ends one a deconstruction of sound moment which gives it a spot of intrigue for me and there is not much else that can be said about it at this time.  Next is “Freedom” which features Kendrick Lamar (this man cannot do any wrong at the moment in my eyes); part protest song, part standing up for your rights, part crying for help and asking for escape, it has a great sample from the song "Let Me Try" by Kaleidoscope, which as memorable when “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So" by the Chi-Lites was used in the international smash hit “Crazy in Love” and we all know how that one turned out for Mrs B.  Kendrick owns this song for me, the man is in the middle of a Medias period in his music career as he just adds another layer to this already fantastic number.  It is a great song that references female and black rights, the black lives matter movement and it also picking up the pace for me after a few numbers and ends with applause and a little sample about having strength taken from the Collection Speech /Unidentified Lining Hymn by Reverend R. C. Crenshaw & Congregation.  The penultimate song of this album is “All Night” which is a song that deals in acceptance, resolution and the path towards redemption, detailing a state of peace and tranquillity and finally getting to the bottom of the lies which caused the schism in the first instance.  There is still a tone of being angry to the song, but there is also love in the mix and a knowledge that moving forward that it might not be perfect, it is worth fighting for in the first place.  Some people might as why the protagonist decided to welcome the unfaithful back to the fold?  For me, it is a showing that it takes a greater strength to forgive, rather than lose the love of their life – whether it is fictional or fact, we might never get to the bottom of that one to be honest.  But the slow old school R&B number is a number that takes a while to sink in, adding pieces along the way that give it a memorable feeling.  Forgiveness can sound good, but I also reckon that memories will long remain for this one as well.  Ending the album is “Formation” which is a song too far for my tastes if I am honest, a new school R&B number, this is a song about having pride in yourself and there is a bit of bragging to the song.  It is a style of song that does not appeal to me, but I am not really the target audience of this song as it is aimed for people in the club with a heavy bass, some verse which demand chant back and it will make fans of this music want to hit the floor as fast as they possibly can.  But it is not a song I can like, let alone love in any way; however, I can appreciate it for what it is and it brings the curtain down with a brilliant line –  You know you that bitch when you cause all the conversation. Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper. 

What we have here is either a confession of real life events, a dramatization of a supposed scenario that people have thought might have happened or just a great work of fiction that will have people guessing what has really happened to Mr & Mrs Carter (not me or my lady Helen obviously).  To have it launch with that HBO special, the imagery and the surprise release of the album as well, it has gotten people talking about the Beyoncé brand once more and given her further exposure that will help this record sell; indeed, in the UK this album reached number 1 upon the week when Prince passed away – if that does not tell you about the selling power of this lady, nothing will.  As a musical experience by itself, the songs in the middle start to lag a little for my tastes and it does go on for one song too many for me.  However, that opening four songs is one of the best introductions to an album that I have heard in a long time, the anger and passion on show are fantastic and you would not want to be on the wrong side of that argument.  I think this is the first consistent album I have heard from Beyoncé and whilst it might not always work for me, it does have more moments on one record that justify the hype than her other albums for my tastes – whoever this Becky turns out to be, she (or he, it might be Beck (warning, this last piece might contain sarcasm, for a brighter tomorrow)) need to go into hiding.

8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top song – Sorry

You can purchase Lemonade on Amazon here

Obviously, it is not on Spotify or Deezer at the time of writing.  Not making any judgement, just stating the facts.

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