With this album, Beyonce has taken a step forward not just for herself, but for music. It matches the hype Kanye created for his own album. It is giant.920x920
So much has been said about the album, and yet with regards to the album – as opposed to the accompanying film – it contains a relatively straightforward narrative. What is really interesting though is the fact that it has a narrative, and not in the way which albums often have narratives or a theme across the songs signified by some opaque lyrical references. This, instead, is a traditional story. It has a beginning, middle and end. What that story is about, and the way in which it is told, is what makes this album so remarkable.
Nowhere is this clearer than at the beginning of the album (and, by the way, it is right to discuss this album from beginning to end because this is how it is presented to us – it is definitely not just a collection of songs). This is where the scene is set in a novel, a film, a play, and Beyoncé steps into line with that requirement spectacularly. She excises her demons, every line from the very first (“I can taste the dishonesty”), not alluding but rather speaking directly about the infidelity in her marriage. As she does so, the plot begins unfolding, we’re aware that she has issues that must be solved. At first the music which hosts this confession echoes it, the first track ‘Pray You Catch Me’ evoking the same mix of vast, expansive gospel like feeling (you can hear the influence of James Blake, one of the song’s writers) with a more direct urban sound that marked parts of The Life Of Pablo. That mixture lends itself well to a moody, stormy darkness which reflects the words coming out of Beyoncé’s mouth.
But the excision culminates sbeyonce-lemonade-how-to-watch-what-to-expect-02pectacularly in ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’, featuring and co-written by Jack White. All you can hear on that track is outrage. It is here that the music matches the lyrics oh so perfectly, White’s beautifully chaotic, crashing blues and rock roller-coaster soundtracks perfectly to the lyrics, which I have no doubt will echo down Jay Z’s spine: “You ain’t married to no average b*itch, bruh” and then “When you hurt me, you hurt yourself/ Don’t hurt yourself.” The set-up is complete – Beyoncé has been cheated on, and she does not give a fuck about what anyone thinks any more – she is out for revenge.
That sense of vindictiveness bleeds into the middle section of the album. Having established that she is in charge, Beyoncé sets about writing the next chapter, the one where she will once again have superiority over herself and her relationship. She very clearly defines the boundaries of relationships in her past as well as her present and future, telling Jay Z what exactly has happened, is happening and will happen: “Middle fingers up, put them hands high/ Wave it in his face, tell him, boy, bye.” Here, we can hear her way of dealing with the infidelity. It is very clearly to regain control and reassert her independence and self-reliance, both in terms of what is around her and what is inside her mind. It is as powerful and compelling as it appears on paper.beybey
It is so powerful that it almost does not matter what music accompanies it. It is almost as if Beyoncé realises this, as she skates from genre to genre as she fancies. Largely, though, it is stunning. Despite brief forays into hip hop and even country she constantly returns to that airy, moody, mysterious RnB/traditional ballad mix which marked out the first track on the album as a classic. This produces nothing short of a complete unity with the lyrics and emotions, with the songs driven forward by beats and given unlimited texture by piano, organ, distorted lyrics, strings and anything else Beyoncé can get her hands on. The only time the ball is musically dropped on the album occurs when she is outside of the formula (‘Daddy Lessons’, ‘Hold Up’, ‘Formation’, parts of ‘Sorry’), making the power of that formula all the clearer.
But no story is complete without an ending, and what an ending this story has. It is one of forgiveness, but more importantly one of continuation. Throughout the beylemonadealbum Beyoncé has laid us breadcrumbs which lead us to a path for her relationship which continues into the future. The lyrics, ‘They say true love’s the greatest weapon/ Even diamonds have imperfections/ With every tear came redemption’ seem especially poignant, celebrating the act of absolution. Yet it is her and her alone who has made the decision that this relationship is worth continuing and it is a decision she has most definitely made herself.
The glory and euphoria that this decision then creates within the album is the result of a story told so, so clearly.
This album can be said to be nothing less than a concept album – that is, an album which constitutes a story. Many a concept album has been written before, all with the tightest of narratives, from the apocalyptic Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots to the wet-eyed nostalgia that The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society paints. Yet no significant ones, ones which have such complete unity of song and lyrics, have been autobiographical. Yes, there are many, many albums which discuss a particular period in the artist’s life. But those with a narrative, a beginning, middle and end, to drag you along the artist’s path are very rare indeed. Beyoncé has shown the world how to do it, and she has shown us how to do it in a way which makes sure that it cannot be ignored.
Ben Duncan – Duggal.