Beyoncé continues to do what few other modern pop stars can — command the attention of the world at a single point in time (and successfully sustain it thanks to a mix of social-media chatter and insta-thinkpieces). Her latest movement, a "visual album" experience called Lemonade, debuted Saturday as a cinematic fever dream of an HBO special. Its mix of head-turning lyrics, literary references, sampled soliloquies and flashy imagery has been the nation's watercooler topic since.
But in its shadow is a pretty spectacular audio album, now streaming on Tidal and available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes. So we decided to gather our local music panel for a special edition, in which we discuss all of the tracks on Lemonade (along with our burned-in memories of the visuals). Start listening now and see if you're thinking what we're thinking:
‘Pray You Catch Me’
Hunter Hauk: “My lonely ear/pressed against the walls of your world.” What accompanies the catharsis and anger on Lemonade is the idea of greeting betrayal with devotion. The chord changes here give it a gospel-interlude vibe. In other words, she’s about to preach.
Dawn Burkes: “You can taste the dishonesty.”The spare R&B leading into the choral upswings put the listener on alert: This is about to be a truth-telling session. Sonically, she picks it up. And then holds it out to make sure you see it. Now, let’s see where she puts it. (Just so you know, I’m taking “Lemonade” personally.)
Tiney Ricciardi: This is the perfect track to begin the emotional cycle that is Lemonade. Queen Bey sounds like her own worst enemy in this song, and we’ve all been there — questioning, doubting, searching for the truth. The moments of hesitation and fear are palpable (not to mention absolutely gorgeous).
Brentney Hamilton: Talk about calm before a storm. Angel-voiced Beyoncé offers up one of the album’s foremost recurring themes: Romantic devotion as a spiritual act. We don’t know where we’re going yet, and I like that the chill vibe — and the gentle petition to a higher power for relief from her suspicions, regardless of whether the knowledge is good or bad — warms up without explicit hints of the eventual explosion.
HH: If “Pray You Catch Me” came from hope and sadness, “Hold Up” lives inside the dried-tear defiance that follows. I love how the barely-there track slinks along behind Beyoncé’s voice. She’s laying it out, letting it set in, nodding at the mirror with a swaggy “wazza?” And in the video, she’s using her baseball bat to further, um, emphasize things.
DB: The easy sway of this song belies the steel that drove these lyrics. In spite of it all, world, I gotta love you. No matter what I have to do. “Jealous or crazy?” I’d rather be crazy, too. In love. This is the beginning of that sermon HH was talking about. This is a call to arms.
TR: It’s love at first listen with this song. From the reggae vibe to the lyrics, it’s equal parts raw, relatable and groovy. This is the ultimate feminist anthem and when I saw Beyoncé smashing cars with a baseball bat, my heart burst with happiness. That must have felt so good!
BH: This is one I don’t think I’ll ever be able to separate from the visual, which is what makes the whole project so interesting — do the individual elements (the music, the vocalization, the spoken-word poetry interludes and the film) need each other? I like this track, but I love it in the film version; the combination of the yellow dress, the alternating expressions of aggression and smiles as she ponders whether she’d rather be “jealous or crazy” and the affected pronunciation pull it all together and give it an emotional element I don’t think I would have picked up from the standalone musical track.
‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ (feat. Jack White)
HH: I’ve never delighted in Jack White’s voice as much as I do when he takes over this tune’s first chorus. He sounds like some sort of demon that Beyoncé is exorcising. But nothing can prepare us for her all-out verbal assault later. I may or may not have listened to this more than 10 times in a row.
DB: This is the wild rebel yell when you get back into the game after any setback. Beyoncé takes on the strut of a rapper, a rock queen, Ronda Rousey, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King and every woman who’s ever gotten back up. I need a moment. “I’m just too much for you.” Look out world, she’s talking to you, too.
TR: Three songs in and I can’t shake how sonically diverse this album is. This reckless rock god, unleash-the-beast moment is a lesser seen side of Beyonce that fits like a glove. And while I loved the visuals for this song, I prefer the album version. Jack White is a huge ally here, and I’d love to see the two of them collaborate again in the future.
BH: Easily my favorite on an album full of strong, strong tracks. At first I wasn’t sure I liked how processed her vocals are, but then I thought: This is Beyoncé. She doesn’t have to prove she can belt. The tinge of raspy aggression it adds, both for Beyoncé and when Jack White arrives, just highlights the lyrics’ grit. Then, there’s the rising background chorus that seems both perfectly in and out of place as the song grows toward its rock crescendo. Props, too, for the way the film version cuts in words from Malcolm X and shots of black women. This is still the Beyoncé show, but it’s not pop sugar. It’s making a big point that resides outside of the immediate infidelity storyline.
HH: The instantly quotable line, “boy, bye” is a perfect example of the humor and facetiousness that Beyoncé captures so well in her work. Even if she’s still exploring the dark after-effects of infidelity, the song’s flippant “I ain’t sorr-ah” refrain and “Dear John”-style rap provide much needed levity. “Big homey better grow up.”
DB: The lyrics to this song should be on a T-shirt. Every. Word. She’s found her real self amid the destruction she sang about earlier and has flicked her wrist to rid herself of the debris. Like I said, this is personal. And it’s not just about some dude, fictional or for real for real. This is about the world that’s trying to tear any woman down. And the song bounces. I imagine this coming out of car speakers that take up the entire trunk, sitting on dubs. She’s done taking it, but Becky might.
TR: “Sorry” is one of my favorite songs on the album. I love the dichotomy between the peppy beats, dipped-in-sugar vocal cadences and furious lyrics — it’s like flashing a giant fake smile to your nemesis. This is another female empowerment song that says exactly what it means. No BS.
BH: I think this is the one that will be inescapable over the summer. Everywhere you go, you’ll hear the singsong of “middle fingers up.” That doesn’t make it less politically charged or lyrically coded. Oh. My. God. Becky. Look at the nuclear societal implications beneath that seemingly innocuous final line.
‘6 Inch’ (feat. The Weeknd)
HH: The Weeknd certainly sounds at home crooning his eerie chorus, but Beyoncé still dominates from the first line of her lower-register opening hook. She pivots from the romantic concerns of the previous tunes to lyrics that command respect for working women of all stripes.
DB: So, this song has the Weeknd all over it, with its booming bass and the crooning. But it’s unmistakably Bouncy’s track as she takes it low for another call to arms. All the girls in the world, this is the new workplace anthem. Sorry, not sorry, DMX (see what I did there?). “Party Up (Up in Here)” may need to make room. Work it, all the girls in the world. I’m about to write a screenplay just so I can use this to score it.
TR: This is one track where my vision of its meaning didn’t align with the video. It’s the track to “Emptiness” and to me it originally said, “Boss.” Either way, Beyoncé found another ally in the Weeknd, whose signature sensual feel gets a dose of Queen Bey badass-ness. The singer diverges from her usual sound too with the molasses-drenched hook, which pulls the sexy out of this tune within the seconds. Work it.
BH: The bass and the complementary contrast of Bey’s low-register with the Weeknd’s higher tone chorus gives it a retro ‘70s quality that feels cinematic without being melodramatic. I could get invested in this character for 90-plus minutes. I almost see this as a dividing track that cuts the album in two cohesive sections; the first half focuses on the darker emotions of infidelity and betrayal, but we’re soon heading into a second half that’s ready to find answers and eventually redemption.
HH: Falling somewhere between New Orleans jazz and front-porch country, B’s ode to a daughter-father bond and all its complications is one of the greatest curveballs on the record. Do you hear those little “Texas” shout-outs at the beginning? Much more subtle than the “yee haw.”
DB: I wish the “yee haw” wasn’t in this track, because that almost makes it kitschy and because without it, this track could have become a classic. “Oh, my daddy said shoot.” This is how you do an album, ladies and gentlemen. Six tracks in and still thematically sound. Bey is finding the fun again, but this time, her eyes are wide open. She said she can do anything in so many words i the songs before this one. Now it’s showing. Like the baby said, “Good job, B.”
TR: This song is all over the place, but somehow it’s undeniably cohesive. I get excited at any ounce of horn section, but didn’t see it going deep into the Heart of Texas. It’s not that album’s star in my opinion, but begs the question, is there anything Bey can’t do?
BH: We’re on new ground now. The album is leaving behind the aggression and is moving into something more introspective, and the music reflects that. Am I crazy, or is there something about the melody, albeit vague, that is reminiscent of “Jolene”? Either way, the jazz and country vibe gives B a chance to grind her voice and get soulful. It’s a good and totally unexpected change of pace.
HH: There’s that devotion in the face of turmoil again, and with the breathy chorus, it comes into even sharper focus. “I don’t care about the lights or the beams/spend my life in the dark for the sake of you and me.”
DB: “Only way to go is up.” So many feels, yo. I’ma need a minute. This song is so in her wheelhouse, it would have been easy for her to just knock it out. But she pours runs and life into it. The intonation and the phrasing ... that push on “up” about three-quarters of the way through the song? This is the part where she decides to try.
TR: I feel the gripping in my chest as soon as the chorus hits and the leading lady climbs those scales effortlessly. Seriously, I’ve got chills. So much sexy right now.
BH: “Tell me what did I do wrong / oh, I already asked that, my bad” and “am I not thirsty enough” are nice lyrical turns. I don’t know if I’m ready to let go and settle in for a reconciliation, now or ever, but it’s a pretty song, regardless.
‘Sandcastles’/‘Forward’ (feat. James Blake)
HH: These two tracks work as one to my ears. The first half, “Sandcastles,” is a piano-backed lament about broken promises, while “Forward” is about forging ahead and trying hard to make things work. Blake’s beautiful vocals and outside-the-box pacing are getting plenty of love online, but I’m more impressed by B’s “Sandcastles” vocal. Rawer than raw.
DB: Those single notes early on -- “I. Made. You. Cry.” -- pierce, and are made even more powerful by the isolation of the piano accompanying them. This might be her best performance since the actual scene in Dreamgirls when sang “Listen” before she walked out the door. “When every promise don’t work out that way.” And then when the background singers join in, and her voice breaks on “sky.” She knows there’s no up for a little while, only a straight line. Somehow, she still made this hopeful. I smell an award. Or two. And James Blake matches her intensity, though it somehow seems plaintive when hers was a wail. Then ... all falls down.
TR: For as much power is in the first half of the album, these two tracks provide an almost necessary reprieve from the intensity, especially considering the accompanying movie. Don’t be fooled — the rawness and vulnerability is still there. But what I love most is the track flips the meaning of keeping promises on its head. Here’s to hoping for a happy ending.
BH: I’m not much of a crier (or a fan of ballads, for that matter), but when her voice breaks in “Sandcastles” over the line “pictures snatched out the frame / bitch, I scratched out your name and your face / what is it about you that I cain’t erase” I thought I was going to have to curl up in the fetal position under my desk. I can’t even image how difficult it was to capture that in a studio.
‘Freedom’ (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
HH: When that first “Freedom, freedom” marches in and forces B to go bigger, louder to compete with the ballooning arrangement ... goosebumps. This album-defining anthem and its video inspire me endlessly, with or without the Kendrick verse at the end. He’s just the icing on the cake.
DB: Kendrick who? I’m marching at my desk right now, with an orange soda at my fingertips, some hot sauce in my purse and looking around for a pick for my Afro. “I’ma keep running 'cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.” If “Formation” had you feeling some type of way but didn’t move you to action, this one will make you Bey’s newest “Freedom” fighter. That’s Jay-Z’s grandmother, by the way, talking about her “lemonade.”
TR: It feels like a tornado just landed in swept us all in a raging swirl of musical magic. It’s a tangle of irony and hysteria until we reach the eye of the storm — then Kendrick Lamar swoops in offering with a brief moment to collect ourselves before we’re back spinning in fiery emotion.
BH: This sounds like classic Beyoncé to me, but definitely not stale. She revisits her innate and well-proven ability to stir feelings of empowerment and makes it sounds new all over again. She’s still a “Survivor,” but a much more mature, battle-tested one.
HH: Here’s the warm-fuzziest moment of the album, proving there’s redemption to be found even when love seems down for the count. I like the way the bouncy horn sample (the same ones from the “Flawless” remix) comes in halfway through.
DB: I don’t care if none of the, well, stuff surrounding this release is true. If it is, it’s a raw look at a family that is and forever will be under microscopic scrutiny. You wanted to know, well here you go. If it’s not, then she’s a better actress than anyone has given her credit for. She’s imbuing this song with her essence and I swear the ancestors are playing behind her. There’s abandon in the chorus, “All night lo-ong ...” And then, “Oh, I’ve missed you my love.” Yeah. Happier.
TR: Yay the horn section is back! Feels like the sun just broke through the clouds, and the home videos help this couple minutes feel like true reconciliation. I think everyone wants to experience similar moments of pure happiness.
BH: I love the call-and-response vocals, like there’s a room full of Beyoncés. It adds to the swelling instruments and triumphant horns. Sidebar: The home videos are a lovely way to finish out the film. Not to mention the quick shot of the resplendent B heavy with child -- remember the conspiracy that claimed she was faking her pregnancy? It’s a subtle reminder that, regardless of how autobiographical Lemonade actually is, this family is constantly under a microscope in times of happiness and strife.
HH: In the context of Lemonade, this tune works even more seamlessly than before as a call to action -- to be honest and brave to your loved ones, to your culture and to yourself. At the same time, it gives the listener a dance break to wrap up an hour of the best kind of musical intensity.
DB: “Y’all haters corny with that Illuminati mess.” This song, so stirring before, is the perfect ending to this manifesto. Yeah, I called it that. What?! Beyonce got me on some other stuff. I’m about to go out and build a bridge, unite some factions, march for peace, vote ... I’ve been planning my work this entire time. Because this is about more than infidelity: It’s about identity, self-esteem, black love, black self love and black magic. In case you were wondering ...
TR: I have to disagree with Hunter and Dawn; I think in the context of Lemonade, it feels out of place. “All Night” is like the happily ever after I was chasing, but don’t get me wrong -- I am digging this vibe. Whether it’s girl power, black power or power as an independent woman, rock it. I know I will be.
BH: Clever and infectious. I almost see it as a companion piece to “6 Inch,” which to my mind works as a coda to the album’s first half. If that one is about grinding with stars in your eyes, this one is about being the star and the reward for staying focused: “The best revenge is your paper.” And, hey, if you treat her right, she might even get your song played on the radio station.
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