If you didn't hear by now, Beyoncé's done it again and released another full-length album by total surprise. Of course, we needed to listen immediately and write down everything we were feeling.
Lemonade is here, and so is our instant track-by-track analysis. Consider this a premature evaluation, and a heads-up on what listeners should look out for:
1. Pray You Catch Me
Lemonade opens a bit on a gospel note—but it's gospel as you never heard it before. Bey's breathy vocals are layered over one another, before the track turns into a piano ballad that sets the scene for something transformative. A beat subtly comes into the mix among gorgeous, orchestral strings and yips from our girl. The track concludes with Bey whispering, "What are you doing, my love?," perhaps indicating a theme for the album.
2. Hold Up
The light reggae beat is deceiving for how fiery Bey's feeling on this track. The superstar looks into a potentially unfaithful lover: "Something don't feel right / I smell your secret and I'm not too perfect to ever feel this worthless / How did it come to this? Going through your call list / I don't want lose my pride, but I'mma fuck me up a bitch."
3. Don't Hurt Yourself feat. Jack White
The first collaboration on Lemonade is a doozy, as the former White Stripe joins Bey for this organ-inflected rock track. With a muffled delivery, Bey near-screams to open the track: "Who the fuck do you think I am? / You ain't married to some average bitch, boy!" Jack comes in on the chorus to sing lines with Bey. "Don't Hurt Yourself" is perhaps one of the coolest blends of rock and R&B music in recent years. By 2:45, Bey is literally screaming at her cheating man, telling him to "give my big, fat ass a kiss, boy!" Woo, we can't remember Beyonce ever singing with this much passion.
The song might be titled “Sorry,” but Bey quickly lets us know she’s anything but sorry, for anything. On the MeLo-X produced track, Beyoncé lets the men know not only does she not need them, she’s not even thinking about them. “Middle fingers up, put ‘em hands high / Wave ‘em in his face / Tell him ‘boy, bye,’” she commands over the midtempo track. We can’t help but hope this is also her reaction to haters who overreacted to her “Formation” video and Super Bowl performance.
5. 6 Inch feat. The Weeknd
Yup, Bey’s talking about six-inch... heels on this slinky, ominous track. The Weeknd pops up, and it makes total sense because this almost sounds like a Weeknd song. The big difference between this song and a Weeknd song is that it’s about a powerful, independent woman who works hard for her own money and doesn’t need a man for shit. “She’s too smart to crave material things / She’s pushing herself, day and night / She grinds from Monday to Friday, work from Friday to Sunday,” Bey sings. The song was written by Beyoncé, The Weeknd, The-Dream, and past Bey collaborator Boots.
6. Daddy Lessons
“Daddy Lessons” is about exactly that–lessons Beyoncé learned from her dad while growing up in Texas. “Daddy made a soldier out of me / Daddy made me dance / Daddy held my hand,” Bey sings, reminiscing about the complex-but-loving relationship she’s had with her father and former manager, Matthew Knowles, since she was young. The track definitely has a bluesy feel, and even a bluegrass influence, with a strumming guitar and handclap being the only other sounds beside Bey’s voice and background voices. “My daddy warned me about men like you,” Bey says towards the end of the song. The track was written by Bey, Wynter Gordon and Kevin Cossum, with production handled mostly by Bey herself, with help from Derek Dixie and Alex Delicata.
7. Love Drought
“You and me could move a mountain,” Bey coos on the radiantly sensual “Love Drought,” which introduces the second half of the album with a gentle touch and kinetic drums. As deft as Beyoncé’s performance here remains, the real star of the track is Mike Dean, who co-produced and co-wrote the track and programmed the glimmering keyboards and percussion.
The titular image—something pristine being easily washed away—marks the opening of this emotionally raw piano ballad, but the way her voice rises with wounded anger with the line “What is it about you?” is the true moment that punctures the listener. After such intricate displays of production, “Sandcastles” is another reminder that stripped-down Beyoncé still overpowers… as if we needed a reminder.
9. Forward feat. James Blake
Seventy-nine scant seconds of a James Blake and Beyoncé collaboration? That’s just… not enough. “Forward” is connecting tissue, an interlude that joins two powerful artists but does not let their voices shine together for more than a moment. Give us the full version stat, Bey!
10. Freedom feat. Kendrick Lamar
This is blues, soul, rock and gospel squeezed into a Vitamix with producer Just Blaze's finger on the button and Bey shaking the whole thing as far as the cord will let her—and, holy hell, is it powerful. Like any Essential 2016 Album, it’s got the all-important K.Dot spot. And a fun fact from the credits department: "Freedom" samples a 1947 recording of a Mississippi State Penitentiary prisoner.
11. All Night
This one essentially concluded the visual album version of Lemonade, and there's a good chance it'll always feel like the album's proper conclusion, with "Formation" serving as the vigorous bonus track turn-up. The production's credited to Diplo and Bey, and Outkast's "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" horns make a key appearance—just like they did on the "Flawless" remix with Nicki Minaj. "All Night" gives Lemonade the same kind of cleansing, breathe-easy moment that fourth-quarter Beyoncé tracks like "XO" and "Blue" did. The record's got such a spread of emotions, but it's hard to do anything but smile to "All Night."
Definitely nothing new to say about "Formation," which got thinkpieced into beautiful oblivion before anyone had won the Super Bowl. What sustained all that thinkpiecing isn't just the single’s sharp-tongued politics or impactful, emphatic love of self and blackness, but the fact that it's as badass an anthem as Beyoncé's ever written. This song will never not bang, and its lyrics will never feel trite.
(Words by Jeff Benjamin, Mark Sundstrom, Jason Lipshutz and Zach Dionne)