Solange explores black womanhood on new album A Seat at the Table
As part of the Knowles family, these days you cannot just announce an album for a release date a couple of months later and drop a single. Big sister Beyoncé launched two very successful surprise albums in a row and this more than likely inspired Solange to wait until two days before the release to give the world a book first (similar to the Boys Don’t Cry magazine for Frank Ocean’s Blonde) and then announce the exciting news. To be fair, we have waited long enough by now, as Solange’s most recent work, the True EP was released back n 2012.
Listening to A Seat At The Table, it is no surprise Solange took a while to record this. The album sounds like a fresh direction of soul music with influences from the 70s and elements of contemporary pop and R&B. Both the compositions and productions sound like they were well thought out. The record is a lengthy body of work, but take into account that almost half of the tracks actually are interludes that do not necessarily qualify as songs (mostly inspirational quotes about being black in a white dominated world). The biggest difference with the sound of True is that this time around all is less focussed on big hooks like the single ‘Losing You’, but more similar to for example Frank Ocean’s Blonde, it is an album you have to consume as a whole, taking into account the flow in production and the story that is told through the lyrics and interludes.
Leading up to the release, Solange described A Seat At The Table as a ‘project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing’. A pretty accurate description when you listen to the wide variety of subjects discussed. Throughout there is an emphasis though, on Solange’s experience as a black woman. “When you driving in your tinted car and you’re a criminal justice who you are, but you know you’re gonna make it far”, Solange sings on ‘F.U.B.U., calling for all black people to use this song for their cause of equality. Tina, mother of Solange and Beyoncé, also discusses this subject in one of the interludes, talking about how there is no wrong in being proud to be black.
Solange dives into lyrical depths she did not reach before and she does so with confidence on an anthem like ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ and the powerful Lil Wayne collaboration ‘Mad’, stating she has got a lot to be mad about, luckily getting that off her chest while writing this album. But it is not only Solange’s lyrical talent that grew over the years. Her voice sounds more versatile this time around, with her daring to go reach fully for the high notes, on the atmospheric ‘Cranes In The Sky’ for example, adding another layer to the track’s climax. Production wise, ‘Don’t You Wait’ absolutely delivers with subtle synths, a driving, powerful beat and a swinging rhythm. Other than that, ‘Where Do We Go From Here’ is definitely one of the highlights, with prominent piano and drums, carrying Solange’s vocals with care.
Solange delivered a dangerously cohesive record, meaning that everything perfectly fits in with each other and the tracks on their own are all beautiful, but the album as a whole feels quite samey in terms of pace and could have done with some more uptempo songs, to give the record a bit more sonical bite. Lyrically, A Seat At The Table has bite for days and as the album is not a hook driven record, I would like to advise anyone to give it a few spins to make more sense of it. Solange delivered her most personal, daring and mature work so far and both in terms of message and sound, it is an impresive step forward for her.
Update: Solange recorded two gorgeous videos for ‘Cranes In The Sky’ and ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’. Almost all the shots would make for great album covers! Visually very pleasing!