It couldn’t start in a more ominous way. Broken chords chime like a grandfather clock as Beyoncé coos over them like a horror soundtrack. “You can taste the dishonesty, it’s all over your breath,” she sings. Needless to say, someone’s ass is NOT going to Red Lobster.
As far as openers go, Pray You Catch Me is hardly the most punchy or memorable. The interesting structure with flourishes of organ and strings keep it less out of an accessible pop realm and more just a statement of intent, on which level it works. But like her self-titled masterpiece, Beyoncé is beyond the concept of things “working”, and it reflects in Lemonade more than ever before.
Surprisingly it takes the presence of Jack White to kick start things on Don’t Hurt Yourself, giving Bey a woman-scorned southern-blues anthem that’d have churchgoers falling into the aisles. It’s relatively simple on the credits scale – compared to the bloated mess of Hold Up before it – and there really is nothing quite like hearing the Queen yelling “who the fuck do you think I am?!”
Essentially, it’s a record that takes the sentiment of Irreplaceable, cranks it past 10, rips the knob off, and uses it to start a fire the size of a neighbourhood. Whether it’s about Knowles Sr or Mr Carter is irrelevant – by placing them central to the discussion of Lemonade devalues the way Beyoncé is choosing to deal with and emerging as a renegade, much in the vein of her ‘middle-fingers-up’ anthem Sorry (“suck on my balls, pause” – well, quite).
So why doesn’t more of it stick? That’s the nature of experimentation, one supposes – these aren’t bad songs, but barring Formation it’s hard to imagine most of this lasting as long as, say, Drunk In Love. There are two occasions where it all clicks in glorious fashion: Love Drought is the best of Bey’s fragility without ever lessening her power, while the Kendrick Lamar feature Freedom is an absolute juggernaut of political grandstanding, church-organ blues providing a parallel for both personal and political.
It’s odd to know that a song like that is on the same album as the Nola speakeasy / acoustic-country vibe of Daddy Lessons, the only respect in which Beyoncé remains very much in the realm of a genre-traversing pop album. Is this one of her best works, though? Not by a mile, despite its personal fire. Lemonade is quenching enough for us Beyoncé fans but it seems to get its ingredients skewed – two parts acidic zinger to every one of moreish sweetness, its aftertaste seems like something that may have to be acquired.