I was never a Beyoncé fan. Not really. Sure, I enjoyed some of the big singles, recognized her A-level game, but never actually enjoyed a full album. I’d honestly tried with Sasha Fierce, but her energy always felt constrained and compromised across the length of an album, only fully erupting on a song or two. I was never completely blown away by her artistry and passion.
Without hesitation, I call Lemonade a pop masterpiece. I haven’t felt this awed by the sheer audacity of a major league r&b album since Frank Ocean’s explosive breakthrough Channel Orange in 2012. There’s a physical power running through these songs, threatening to burst at any moment. At the end I’m left giddy and exhausted, thankful for the emotional workout inside such an impeccably produced environment.
At a trim 45 minutes, there’s zero room for filler on this set. Even the requisite ballad tracks pulse with energy, fitting perfectly in the emotional arc, morphing seamlessly into harder-edged pieces. The guest list is small but efficient, seemingly hand-picked for variety and style buffing. Jack White’s guitar rips through the angriest tune, teasing up a rush that builds into the hardest lyric of the entire record. Nothing feels more powerful than hearing Beyoncé roar, “WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK I AM?” The Weeknd layers icy cool and dangerous seduction on a track sampling Isaac Hayes’ Walk On By, James Blake paints plaintive rings around the contemplative heart of the album, and Kendrick Lamar delivers an acrobatic, hair-raising verse on Freedom. Still, the most surprising weapon in the arsenal is Beyonce’s voice itself. Her elastic physicality bounces between hopeful whisper and raging lament, fluid and dangerous. Anger and exaltation share the stage in a perfectly choreographed duet. Her deeply personal story is expressed in gigantic, universal terms, captured at its absolute flashpoint.
I could go on with the comparisons, nodding to D’Angelo’s massive comeback, Black Messiah (a best of 2014 release), but I’ll simply leave you with the trailer for the visual edition of the album. This is a mere taste of the incredible imagery found within what amounts to a nearly feature-length film of pure visual poetry. It reaches a euphoric fever pitch as Beyoncé gleefully smashes cars with a baseball bat, fire erupting behind her on every beat. If you enjoy the music at all, watch the visual edition as soon you can. It’s held hostage on HBO streaming right now, but it’ll be everywhere soon enough.
The album is finally available this Friday as a CD + DVD, with the full visual album, on Amazon and other places, and it should appear streaming on Spotify and elsewhere, breaking the Tidal prison it’s been in since release.