Though we were all fairly lukewarm on its release, A Seat at the Table eventually became one of my favourite records of 2016. It flowed like a written diary, and its sound was sumptuous. More importantly, its power grew over time. My initial reaction to Solange’s latest release, When I Get Home, was similarly tepid, this time bordering on genuine apathy. Unfortunately, further listens have only decreased my overall interest.
It’s not that When I Get Home is even remotely bad. It just seems incredibly comfortable hovering above water with no intention of heading anywhere in particular. There is an abundance of ideas, though very few of them develop into fully-fledged songs. Instead, listeners are dealt with two-to-three minute arrangements that prioritise mood over everything else. It’s very pretty, but not really all that engaging.
Solange’s ideas and principles deserve better, and there are moments where the album flirts with the notion of coming to life, only to fade back into its former ambiance. Solange’s vocals are soft, airy, and fairly delicate, which was one of her strengths on A Seat at the Table. Here, it only adds to the tepidness. Everything proceeds at a leisurely pace, which means recurring passages fail to make any sort of impact. When done effectively, repetition can become meditative and reflective. When I Get Home, on the other hand, is regrettably dull.
6 out of 10
A Seat at the Table is a wonderful album, bursting with well-developed creativity and the perfect balance of carefree serenity and intrigue. Solange’s gracefulness felt like the core of the album’s success, underpinning every track with elegance and staggeringly clean vocals. When I Get Home, unfortunately, feels like neither a continuation nor progression from its predecessor. The weightlessness of Solange’s delivery feels less the result of the near-angelic demeanour with which she sang on ASatT, and more that of sheer emptiness.
From the first listen through to the fourth, I found that the feeling I was missing something was replaced with a frustration at how lacklustre the experience really is. The lyricism is minimalist, which is fine, but to base so many tracks on the same dull, empty lines repeated ad nauseum seems arrogant and uninspired.
“Almeda”, despite being one of the most melodically interesting and memorable tracks on the album, is one of the chief offenders of the problem. The song carries a heavy-handed pretence of deeper meaning that just isn’t substantiated by the lyrics themselves; it professes to be about something, but it comes off as being about nothing.
Consumerism is the hot topic of “My Skin My Logo”, and its exploration through the track is similarly banal in the extreme. I can’t bring myself to praise Solange’s vocals here either, as she mumbles through each line with the cadence of a stoner being absorbed by their sofa.
When I Come Home falls flat on every level, with quiet and careless mixing that doesn’t even attempt to make something of its uninspiring melodies. Following A Seat at the Table was always a tall order, but it seems that nobody who worked on this project was fussed about trying.
5 out of 10
It took me some time to get on board with Solange’s previous album, and I was fully expecting to warm to this latest release in the same way. Unfortunately, I’ve remained indifferent to the majority of When I Get Home. Amid suggestions that there are hidden away secrets and deeper meaning within this album, and that it’s the listener’s responsibility to dive deeper, I find myself struggling not to float away, let alone dive in.
That doesn’t mean this is a tiresome listen though. There are some great moments here and the overall vibe and tone of the album is pleasant enough despite not holding my attention throughout. “Stay Flo” has a delicate instrumental and involvement across the track from Metro Boomin. “Almeda” has a great flow and a similarly solid instrumental. “Sound of Rain”, my album highlight, has an infectious quality to it and a breezy vocal. But the main reason that these are the album’s best moments is more likely because of their solid structure, focus and personality. Each track stands out from the rest of the tracklist and many of the stronger themes from A Seat at the Table are present in the vocals.
For the most part, however, the rest of the tracklist escapes me, and that’s especially true in the final third where tracks appear in quick succession. Vocals appear to waver and float through, instrumentals are well produced but can often blend together in a mesh of beats and Moog murmurs.
Maybe it’s my fault as a listener that I don’t see anything more here, and it might well be that over the next six months I find far more love for this album that I currently feel. For the time being though, When I Get Home isn’t going to see many more spins though I will no doubt return to “Sound of Rain” in isolation. The album has a great sound and clearly has struck a chord with many, but something doesn’t quite click for me.
6 out of 10