When I Get Home
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When A Seat At The Table arrived in 2016, I had the pleasure of reviewing it for Albumism. I loved it from the first second and willingly drowned in its mellifluous bass lines, delicately affecting vocals and cut-glass song-craft. Yet something stopped me from being honest about how much I loved it—maybe it was the thought that I couldn’t give a maximum rating to an album that fresh in the mind. I gave it, to my eternal shame, a paltry four stars and regretted it as soon as it was published. I learned that day to be braver in my judgments.
Solange’s fourth album When I Get Home further cements her place at the nexus of an extended group of artists and musicians pushing forward the notion that “high art” can be created from the most universal and locally sourced ingredients. Her cultural value has never been higher. As the purveyor of one of the finest and most important albums of recent years (the aforementioned A Seat At The Table), she has capitalized on that success to reach out into cultural avenues beyond musical ones.
This time, though, there is a but. This time she has rejected a path towards traditional song structures, instead preferring a loosely constructed, often lyrically repetitive set of songs that intermingle and flow into one another to an even greater degree than her previous record. But it doesn’t always hit the heights it aspires to. The way the songs flow in and out of each other is often the result of a lack of memorable melody, instead being carried along on waves of muted beats and flourishes of keys.
Indeed, the single greatest things about the album are the keyboard sounds that permeate throughout. At times they conjure astral voyages, at others their warmth is like being enveloped in a bear hug from a long lost friend—they really are quite magnificent. But they lack the anchor of a tune to cling to and that is ultimately what stops the album, to these ears at least, scaling previous heights.
There are those who will likely want to view the album as part of a multimedia art installation and they will argue that to feel the full impact you would need to hear the album in this expanded context. But the music is what albums are about. The sheer unadulterated euphoria of putting those headphones on and disappearing down a musical rabbit hole. It can only be judged on its own merits.
And merits, it undoubtedly has. Opener “Things I Imagined” casts a bewitching spell with many textured keys burbling away like a space age Stevie Wonder. “Way To The Show” has a bouncing bass line and a swaggering lyric to match it. “Stay Flo” boasts a trademark delicate melody and “Dreams” is as wistfully dreamy as the title would suggest. Later on “Jerrod,” the spirit that infused A Seat At The Table returns with a vengeance with its delicately multi-layered vocal arrangement and an understated groove that is almost capable of inducing a trance-like state.
The album undoubtedly forms an ode to Houston, Texas both musically (in the chopped and screwed sound of “Almeda”) and in artistic and personal inspiration (in the feature of Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad on “S McGregor”). But the title of the album also reflects the notion that this iteration of the artist is finding her creative home. Lyrically, meanwhile, it sees her released (for the most part) from the burden of being a spokesperson for black women, instead offering her a chance to be freer, more carefree and more personal.
Ultimately When I Get Home falls short of greatness, not for want of trying but by dint of its far-reaching ambition. Perhaps it reaches too far, too soon and frustrates under the weight of its own pretension. But what do I know, I’m the idiot that gave A Seat At The Table only four stars.
Notable Tracks: "Almeda" | “Dreams” | "Jerrod" | “Stay Flo”