By Alex Suskind and Leah Greenblatt
June 17, 2018 at 04:08 PM EDT
Credit: Beyonce/Instagram

Leave it to Beyoncé and Jay-Z to surprise-drop an album on a quiet Saturday in June while the two are in the middle of a globetrotting summer tour. Featuring guest spots from Pharrell, Quavo, and Offset, and with production from Cool and Dre and Boi-1da (among others), Everything Is Love is another bold entry in the decade-plus saga of America’s 21st-century sweethearts.

Ahead, EW critic-at-large Leah Greenblatt and music editor Alex Suskind break it all down.

Leah: So, Alex, do you agree that this is basically a vibe record? Like a musical snapshot of where Jay and Beyoncé are at right now — or one of those holiday newsletters families send out to remind you that they’re doing fantastic, thanks for asking. (Mr. Carter got promoted! The kids had the best time at camp! Mrs. Carter is very much enjoying her art-history extension course!)

The mood feels loose, but at the same time extremely deliberate: They’ve come through all that sticky Lemonade and Jay’s raw responses on 4:44, and they’re a united front once again. There’s also some serious outside score-settling — with Kanye West for, among other things, still being mad they didn’t make it to his wedding in Italy (“I ain’t going to nobody’s nothing when me and my wife beefing/I don’t care if the house on fire/I’m dying n—, I ain’t leaving”); Drake for bailing on Tidal; and Trump for Trumping. (I will absolutely be using “I give a f— what that man find vulgar/Just look in my eyes when you toast us” for every Franzia box-top I pop this summer.)

Alex: Well, Leah, as More Life-era Drizzy might say, this isn’t an album, it’s a playlist — particularly when stacked against the familial operatics of Jay and Bey’s previous solo works. If 4:44 and Lemonade were the tumultuous first and second acts, then Everything Is Love is the long-awaited resolution.

You use the word “deliberate,” and of course everything in the Carters’ universe always is, but they still manage to carry with it an air of spontaneity. No one does surprises like music’s reigning monarchs — in both release drops and lyrics. Personal highlights on this one include Beyoncé shading Spotify (“If I gave two f—s about streaming numbers/Would have put Lemonade up on Spotify/F— you, f— you, you’re cool, f— you, I’m out”); Hov’s NBA-themed disses (“The behind-the-back pass is so effortless/LeBron James to you Omaroses”); and Bey not-so-playfully threatening her husband (B: “We keepin’ it real with these people, right?/Lucky I ain’t kill you when I met that b—”; Jay: “Aight, aight” ). Bonus points for the guest ad-libs from Offset and Quavo, and a credit from Kanye’s resident mixer Mike Dean. Speaking of the sound, any thoughts on the production?

Credit: Parkwood Entertainment

Leah: I’m not sure you’re legally allowed to make an album in 2018 without at least two-thirds of Migos on board. But seriously, yeah, the production is, I would say, complementary? Efficient? It’s not stealing any shine, that’s for sure. Or getting in the way of the message, a lot of which is pretty meta. Like “Heard About Us”: We already know they wear Pateks, not Seikos, and their place in Aruba is probably not a timeshare. In that same song though, we also get the line “That’s too famous, we don’t even really do famous.” Okay!

It was interesting to have it confirmed on “Lovehappy” that the move to Malibu was Becky-related; they literally left New York, at least in part, to save their marriage. And this whole record definitely feels like Bey is in ’Yonce mode; she’s leaning hard, even though there is some hype-girl sweetness in the mix.

Alex: The thing that struck me about “Lovehappy” was Bey once again walking us through the pain of Jay’s alleged infidelity and back to steadier ground. “You did some things to me… But love is deeper than your pain and I believe you can change/Baby, the ups and downs are worth it/Long way to go, but we’ll work it/We’re flawed but we’re still perfect for each other.”

It’s like she’s telling the Hive, It’s cool, you can rock with Jay again despite his faults. There’s something heartwarming, something imperfectly human, about what they’re sharing with us: Yes, we occasionally do terrible things to the people we love, but that doesn’t mean we’re giving up on them. One thing’s for sure: we’ve come a long way from “’03 Bonnie and Clyde.”

Leah: I have to say that being there at the OTR II show in London on Saturday, they really did seem like a couple that had been through something and come out the other side. That might just be great acting; when there’s a billion dollars on an elevator, or on a hydraulic stadium lift, you do what you need to. And they didn’t even stick around for the album announcement after the last song; just rolled the “Apes—” video while they strolled off stage hand in hand.

The thing I wonder is, will you go back to this album much after today? Honestly, on my own time I’d probably re-up “Don’t Hurt Yourself” or “All Night” or “The Story of OJ” before anything on Everything.

Alex: This record has a few certified bangers (“Apes—,” “Friends”) and some fun sonic nuggets (horns, trap hi-hats, nods to Dr. Dre), but I’m not sure how much I’ll be revisiting it top-to-bottom. Though Everything follows a cohesive narrative and is captivating in parts, it lacks the musical bond of a Lemonade or a Beyoncé or even a 4.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve gotten so used to Bey’s projects being these spectacular, fully formed visions that it’s hard to think I’ll be digesting anything she does piecemeal. I’d be more inclined to do that with a Jay-Z record (though maybe not; in a post-4:44 world, I’ve come to expect more from him too). Either way, this album is a step in the right direction for Jay, while further cementing Bey’s place as an artist firmly in control of her own narrative and sound. I guess Hov was right: Nobody wins when the family feuds.