Four and a half stars
Let's just get this out of the way — Lemonade is not a subtle album. Years' worth of infidelity rumours surrounding her husband, the rapper and mogul Jay Z, are filtered here through a megaphone.
It’s overtly sympathetic and somewhat self-righteous, with Beyoncé emerging as the clear winner while never coming off as a victim — a delicate balance that’s expertly walked.
That aside, Lemonade also marks another triumph for Beyoncé the artist. It's her third straight great album, a clear statement the pop star is in her artistic prime.
For whatever the record lacks in subtlety, it does well to not sound disingenuous, especially when experienced with the track-by-track videos accompanying the album's release (screened on American broadcaster HBO). It's worth tracking down the "visual record" component. Beyoncé, for all of her crystal-clear audible talents, is this generation's Michael Jackson when it comes to creating music videos, through which Lemonade's most cutting lines are downright vicious. If "Becky with the good hair" weren't already gracious enough to give Jay's tryst a pseudonym, Bey's ice-cold stare in the accompanying video while reciting the now-famous line would cause the offending party to change her moniker and flee far from the public's view.
But back to the music, of which there’s plenty here worthy of repeated, sing-out-loud moments.
The real standout is the second track Hold Up, a weightless, soulful refrain filled with painful confusion, authoritative indignity and a glorious repetition of the most repeatable line from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs 2003 classic single Maps. It might be as close to perfect as songs come, one that would risk coming off as parody in anyone but Bey's capable hands.
Sorry will probably prove to be the biggest radio hit. It's a gorgeous, triumphant song that bookends an opening four-track run that's as good as any set of tracks on a Beyoncé album. She also proves to have a Kanye-esque knack for curating other talents to fit her idiom. Rapper Kendrick Lamar, enjoying his own artistic pique, takes time to add serious weight to the fierce Freedom. Jack White sounds more vital than he has in a decade and gives Don't Hurt Yourself a tint of soiled-blue soul that only he could. The Weeknd — making what seems like his six-billionth cameo of 2016 — floats in and out on 6 Inch before wearing out his welcome. And Formation — a victorious, come-at-me-if-you-dare declaration of empowerment — is a great choice to close out the refreshingly streamlined 12-track set.
Once-Drunk In Love, Lemonade finds the pop queen facing a sobering new reality — life isn't a fairy tale, after all. She chooses the path of the head-held-high, and comes out more powerful than ever.