When I Get Home (released March 1, 2019)
So Edd, what did you think of Black History Month 2019?
Yeah, we’ve seen better days.
Leave it to Solange Knowles to swoop in like Ororo Munroe in an attempt to rescue us all.
When I Get Home, her fourth LP, serves the hotly anticipated follow-up to 2017’s A Seat At the Table, a fierce statement on modern blackness and womanhood. When I Get Home nicely bridges the gap between Black History Month and the start of Women’s History Month – call it divine providence or just really good marketing.
It’s the perfect setting for yet another powerful musical message. But this time, that message gets muddled in a haze of eclectic soundscapes and fractured lyrics.
Somebody better get Siri on the phone – you’re gonna need a GPS to navigate When I Get Home.
The first track “Things I Imagined” starts out wonderfully, with Solange elegantly reciting the song’s title. Again. And again. And AGAIN.
A N D A G A I N.
It’s like listening to my 702 CD skip in 1996.
That style is mimicked on the next full track “Down with the Clique,” and as repetitive (and exasperating) as it feels at times, it’s pretty easy to zone out to the gentle thud of the track’s cymbals.
Things sound pretty good even when she’s barely saying a thing.
Both “Way to the Show” and “Stay Flo” sound like the makings of hit songs – the production is sound, the atmosphere is right and the shifting rhythms are enough to keep you guessing. But the meat of the songs – you know, the actual lyrics – just aren’t there. “Time (is)” is more or less Solange saying “you gotta know” over and over while the beat shifts from neo-soul to some sort of bizarre blend of techno-trap, with Solo n’ Sampha exchanging moans in the background. All said, it’s a pretty beautiful-sounding car crash.
But that doesn’t mean Solange doesn’t have anything to say here. “Almeda” is a groovy ode to “black-owned things,” reminding us that “Black faith still can’t be washed away/Not even in that Florida water.” But then we go from woke to jokes on “My Skin My Logo,” where Solange giggles through her lazy rap verses like lean-era Lil Wayne, with Gucci Mane not offering much either. At least her pseudo-rapping works way better on “Binz,” a bouncy celebration of her grind.
Listening to When I Get Home is equal parts fondness and frustration. Songs start off promising and then drift off into nothingness, like Solange herself got bored halfway through recording. And while the album definitely feels unfinished, it’s not out of laziness or incompetence. The artistry is intentional. It’s almost like a chopped-and-screwed alt-R&B mixtape – it’s much more about atmosphere and feeling than octaves and intricate songwriting.
You can fully expect When I Get Home to be the most divisive album of the year. If you’re not feeling it on first listen, don’t let these Woke Folk bully you into thinking you’re missing out on some sort of modern masterpiece. Even though the album’s sparseness is intentional, there are still gaping holes in the concept. Likewise, it’s pretty unfair to judge the album on one listen – it took several visits to complete this review, and I grew to appreciate it a little more each time. It takes a minute to peel away at this album’s layers.
When I Get Home is daring, confusing, sorta brilliant and all kinds of frustrating. Solange’s vision is crystal clear, even when it’s cloudy for the rest of us. But in the end, When I Get Home just feels like a rough draft of a future classic.
Best tracks: “Way to the Show,” “Binz,” “Stay Flo”
3 stars out of 5