The Carters ‘Everything is Love’ – Review

21 Jul

There is something otherworldly, glamorous and ridiculous about Jay Z and Beyoncé’s marriage (a relationship honestly divorced from any sense of realism) and those are elements that they have gloriously mirrored in ‘Everything is Love’s expensive, pristine productions. The cover art, promotional photos and lead music video all prominently feature the louvre and its many prized artworks. The crystalline beats, soulful chords and honeyed vocals are arguably as opulent as anything contained in that famed institution.

This is a slight but ambitious record where Beyonce in particular pushes herself in to new poses. She has diverted so far from her initial sweet spot that it’s a little difficult to gauge how much of her we can recognise in these deliriously affected raps. She’s technically proficient, undoubtedly, and confident in a way that allows her to adopt wild and unusual personas. For better or worse, she rarely sounds like the natural diva who belted out relatively straightforward anthems like ‘Crazy in Love’ and ‘Single Ladies’. Jay Z meanwhile is Jay Z – less audacious than twenty years ago, perhaps, and not much more mature, but still one of the most distinctive and unflappable rappers out there.

Lead single, ‘Apeshit’, – catchy, relentless, dramatic – is an example of where The Carters coalesce perfectly. So perfectly in fact that the rest of ‘Everything is Love’ pales in its wake by hitting similar beats thematically without ever matching ‘Apeshit’s brazen artistic confidence.

‘Summer’ is an inauspicious opening track. Over a laid back groove, Beyonce swoons over her husband, imploring him to make love to her on the beach. As ‘so real…so real…so real’ echoes, you can’t help feeling that there is something very unreal about this cinematic fantasy. Nothing about the cliched imagery ‘water’s so blue’ ‘beach sands’ ‘play the game’ feels original but by the time Jay Z appears to disrupt the romance, the imagery has become so decidedly evocative and desirable that you can’t help but be sold on this dream of an idealistic relationship. This sets the tone for ‘Everything is Love’, an album so steeped in thick and carefully placed metaphors that it feels almost disappointingly evasive and hard to pin down.

Somehow though Beyonce and Jay Z manage to sustain this level of desirability, even as they reveal glimpses of folly. Events of the past two years have dramatically demonstrated that this dream relationship is no such thing. In their spats, both public, artistic and private, The Carters have been humanised in a way that didn’t seem possible a few years ago. Cracks, albeit beautiful cracks, are clear on the surface (and they are a couple totally obsessed about the surface). None of that is explicitly excavated on ‘Everything is Love’, which perhaps isn’t unexpected, after all both ‘Lemonade’ and ‘4:44’ did very good jobs of analysing the hurt of the situation. Instead this album tries to present a positive public face. As Beyoncé rattles through the affirmations on ‘Love Happy’ – ‘love is deeper than your pain’ ‘I believe you can change’, ‘we’re flawed but we’re still perfect for each other’, ‘this beach hasn’t always been paradise’ – the soulful sincerity of her vocals soothes any doubts or disappointments.

This is neither artist’s best work, not by a long shot. Beyoncé doesn’t sound as fierce or as emboldened as she did on ‘Lemonade’, where the moods were far more deeply sourced and her vocals more powerful. Likewise Jay Z isn’t afforded the space to get particularly wordy or insightful and on the album’s strongest songs – ‘Apeshit’, ‘Summer’ and ‘Love Happy’ – he is either muted or comfortably outshone by his better half. You also never particularly feel like The Carters make the most of this pairing; few of these songs feel like genuine collaborations, rather they are Jay Z or Beyoncé tracks that briefly feature the other half. Beyonce’s backing vocals on ‘Black Effect’ are a rare example of where she integrates herself in to the architecture of her husband’s song. Jay Z meanwhile never really feels like more than a passer by on her tracks.

From start to finish, ‘Everything is Love’ is a projection; a fantasy presented as something deep and personal. It isn’t in any recognisable sense – the productions are far too on the nose, and the lyrics are the carefully considered output of a committee. But as a projection, it is far more unique than the average confessional. Has there ever been a power couple on the level of The Carters? And if there has, did they take the brave and unusual step of unravelling their complex relationship issues on a daring pop album? ‘Everything Is Love’ is therefore a significant record, and one that will be referred to and poured over for years to come by fans, gossip columnists and commentators alike, digging for any insight in to this fascinating couple. It’s elusive more often than not, but perhaps that adds to the intrigue.

7/10

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