solange’s ‘when I get home’ is an explorative album for her by her
The content matter reveals multiple layers of Solange, the woman who prefers her liquor brown, like her skin and her blunts, as well as the woman all wrapped up in romanticism yearning for her lover.
Solange Knowles knows how to make an entrance. In an act of nostalgia, last Tuesday the i-D cover star published a tweet that directed her followers to visit Black Planet, an online social platform designed exclusively for black people that was extremely popular in the early 2000s. Upon visiting her Black Planet profile, fans found visuals and clues about her new album, When I Get Home, the follow-up to her critically-acclaimed 2016 album, A Seat at the Table. Up until she finally dropped the album on Thursday evening, the singer’s cryptic behaviour had kept fans on their toes, questioning the possibility of a Black Planet return and the nature of her fourth studio album.
If you’re approaching Solange’s new album with the expectation of a sonic sequel to ASATT, you will be severely disappointed at first, and then pleasantly surprised at what you receive instead. Of course, there are elements in the new album that closely resemble the previous. In ASATT, Solange was committed to creating art that unapologetically centred blackness and her relationship with it as a black woman. This same exploration and documentation of black life was explored in WIGH. On Almeda, over a slow atmospheric beat chopped and screwed like an early 90s Houston hip-hop jam, she reminds us of the beauty of black hair and black joy, and that “Black faith still can't be washed away”. Though present in other songs like the Gucci Mane-assisted track My Skin My Logo, this subject does not overly-dominate the lyrics of the project.
Surprisingly enough, WIGH’s lyrics are not actually a central focus here at all. Across the record, Solange establishes herself as a talented music composer who can create engaging and interesting songs sans lyrics. If the 19-track album does tell a story, the narrative would be incomplete without the jazz instruments and electronic sounds that dominate the project and contribute independently to the mood of the album. The heavy piano, bass and lingering 808s pad slow, mid-tempo and whimsical beats that reflecting peace and tranquility.
Solange uses her versatile voice as an instrument rather than for storytelling. In many of the songs she repeats the same 3-4 lines over and over again; the repetitive vocal riffs and scatting sequences less about providing context or communicating the album’s message, more about filling the airy spaces of the beat breaks. She also adds supporting vocals from The Dream, Sampha and Cassie, whose random ad-libs re-energise and recenter the listeners attention.
One of the biggest differences between her 2016 album and this one, is that things have got notably more personal. That's not to say that she’s suddenly offered up explicit details about her personal life. It’s personal because she’s making music that reflects her current individual ideas and emotions. As someone who notoriously shies away from the spotlight and very rarely shares information about herself outside of music, this new offering seems to be about as intimate as it’s going to get, and yet it still reveals little to nothing at all. In songs like Jerrod and Way to the Show, her whispered voice is calling out to an unspecified lover that we can only assume is her husband and frequent creative partner, Alan Ferguson, or maybe no one at all.
With this album, she was not concerned with producing musical anthems that represent the experiences of others. ASATT was a selfless project released to heal spirits during a time when black Americans were growing anxious from the trauma caused by mass-incarceration, gun-violence and other state-sanctioned terrors. She dedicated the album to issuing reminders about self-care, affirming black people’s place and dignity in the world, and reflecting black excellence and black struggle. But this time Solange was selfish.
In WIGH, Solange is not speaking to or about you, she’s speaking for and about herself. She does so by using the lyrical nuances we’ve become accustomed to over the years, that of which only she knows the true meaning of. The content matter reveals multiple layers of Solange, the woman who prefers her liquor brown, like her skin and her blunts, as well as the woman all wrapped up in romanticism yearning for her lover. Solange’s lyrics show that she is a multidimensional human being, a fact the she declares on Can I Hold The Mic (Interlude) when she states, “I can't be a singular expression of myself, there's too many parts, too many spaces, too many manifestations, too many lines, too many curves, too many troubles, too many journeys, too many mountains, too many rivers, so many.”
WIGH is a reminder that sometimes art doesn’t have to mean anything. Even without a clear message behind the project, the interlude title Do Nothing Without Intention assures the audience that nothing Solange does is without purpose. The intention of this album was to provide a medium through which she could release her thoughts and ideas in the way she knows best -- through music and visual art.
The album’s accompanying 33-minute short film is another stunning example of the raw nature of art. Just when you think you know what’s going on in the film, you realise you don’t. And honestly, Solange might not either. There’s a beautiful army of black cowboys gliding across the streets on horses, a well-dressed girl gang led by Solange dancing sensually in a deserted space, and at one point, the appearance of a robotic-looking woman with a tattoo above her eyebrow. The collection of clips are filtered with a grainy mask but reveal no apparent meaning; simply a product of Solange’s wonderful and complex imagination, and the mind-wanderings she sings about on Dreams.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, Solange isn’t going to give you what you want, and certainly not when you ask for it. But she will provide you with everything she has and wishes to give in a manner that is both thoughtful and engaging. For WIGH, she had a series of visions and a talented roster of musicians -- including Dev Hynes, Pharrell Williams, Tyler, the Creator and Playboi Carti -- willing to contribute their talents. With these tools in hand, she gave us a beautiful body of work that may not do well at a dance party or energise a protest, but will relax you in the company of a bubble bath, a blunt and dreams of your own.