The younger sister of global megastar and corporate feminist icon Beyoncé Knowles, it took Solange a little while to establish herself as solo artist. After a forgettable teen debut in 2003 with Solo Star, it would be another five years before her much improved follow-up arrived with Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams in 2008. She showed hints of her potential with a cover of Dirty Projectors’ ‘Stillness is the Move‘ before making the choice to go independent, joining Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear at Terrible Records which put out a well received seven-track EP titled True in 2012.
She didn’t stay with Taylor’s label for long though, establishing her own Saint Records in 2013 alongside announcing plans for a third album. The first time Solange came to the attention of many regular folk was likely after the infamous “elevator incident” in 2014 where she was filmed attacking her brother-in-law Jay-Z after the Met Gala. It was a huge story at the time, with her father later suggesting that it was a cynical PR stunt designed to boost profits for all involved.
The “Jedi Mind Trick” worked, with Solange’s U.S. record sales increasing by over 200% the following week. With her profile elevated in the media over the next couple of years, Solange dropped her brilliant breakthrough album A Seat at the Table in 2016. It was a bold statement, featuring smooth R&B-style compositions over which she discussed various aspects of black history, culture and pride with great depth and emotion. It truly announced her as a solo artist, turning her into one of the most talked about names of the year in the process. Excitement for her next release inevitably grew.
Revealing small clues in the run up to her fourth album, When I Get Home arrived on 1st March and was released alongside a 33-minute promotional film, directed and edited by Solange. Taking inspiration from her hometown, the Houston-born artist said in interviews that this album is more focused on feeling than A Seat at the Table, which was more about what she had to say. Lyrically she does have a lot less to say on When I Get Home, with the repetition of words largely following the stark and minimalist compositions.
Produced alongside the likes of John Key, John Carrol Kirby, Standing on the Corner and Pharrell, among others, the influence of cosmic jazz and hip hop can be heard throughout. It’s a fairly eclectic listen and is certainly more challenging than her last record, mainly because there’s less depth to When I Get Home. With the focus moving away from traditional song structures and more about the general vibe, it’s harder to immerse yourself in much of the album. Song-wise there’s really nothing here that can touch the likes of ‘Cranes In The Sky’ but it appears that was the intention.
There are some good moments spread across When I Get Home such as ‘Dreams’ and ‘Jerrod’, but for the most part it just sounds like an album of interludes that vary in length. The credits are packed with big name contributors including Sampha, Panda Bear, Tyler, the Creator, The-Dream, Dev Hynes, Earl Sweatshirt and Scarface. However, you barely notice their presence, and when you do it’s because they’re awful. Lyrical geniuses Playboi Carti and Gucci Mane mumble though their verses on the lazy ‘Almeda’ and the irritating ‘My Skin My Logo’.
Overall, When I Get Home feels like a step backwards after Solange released one of the albums of the decade just three years ago. Despite the inevitable praise her fourth full-length will receive and the countless comment pieces that will inevitably come off the back of it, when the hype eventually dies down it’s hard to see this being an album that people will return to with much excitement in years to come.
When I Get Home is available now via Columbia