When I Get Home is stuffed with intriguing ideas. The formulas are sound, operating in the same vein as Solange’s breakout album A Seat At The Table, which luxuriated in the “Black Girl Magic” trend in pop music which dominated the majority of 2016-17, a layered and intricate work encompassing self-construction and defiant, euphoric rebellion. When I Get Home sounds like it wanted to expand on and till some of the fertile soil its predecessor unearthed, but took a break for lunch and never came back. Nothing here will “make your trunk rattle,” as promised late last year.
It reminds me of The Broad museum in Los Angeles. The Broad is full of exhibits that others find fascinating that I cannot figure out for the life of me — things like neon signs and a ridiculous giant table. They sit there, among the paintings and sculptures and photographs, like they belong. They’re supposed to be art, I guess, and their plaques denote them as such, as do their placements on the exhibit floor behind stanchions. But they’re just these mundane items we encounter in our daily lives.
And maybe I’m being too literal-minded about their statuses as works of art. After all, those plaque break down all the things that make them works of art, all the supposed conventions they subvert and the way they make us question what art even is. Taking them in that context, you can almost see them as a not-so-subtle troll of the art critic community for its collective pretentiousness. But, you know what? Leaving all that aside, at the end of the day, a table is a table, no matter how big it is.
Up until she beat up her sister Beyonce’s husband in an elevator and the footage leaked online,Solange Knowles was almost entirely overlooked by the critical mainstream, boxed into the unfair write off as “Beyonce’s less-talented sister.” After she released this long-awaited fourth studio album, When I Get Home, just days ago, however, and I took in some of the starry-eyed reactions online, I couldn’t help but think about that table. I felt like I was being trolled, along with the rest of the world.
If When I Get Home isn’t a slow-cooked slice of vengeance for her earlier misperception among the critical set — and the general audience of consumers who overlooked her supremely underrated sophomore album, Sol-Angel And The Hadley St. Dreams — and instead an earnest and ambitious attempt at creating the sort of thoughtful, self-aware project it’s purported to be, it definitely needed to stay in the oven a little longer. In any event, it needs to figure out which of these two things it wants to be.
Take, for instance, the seemingly half-baked intro, “Things I Imagined.” Solange’s songwriting is strained, simply repeating the refrain over and over as an electric piano vamps and synthesizers swirl and eventually, the whole thing breaks down without doing anything. My ear goes from intrigued, to engaged, to disinterested all in the space of two minutes. It’s an effect she returns to multiple times over the course of the album, on “Dreams” and “Beltway” and “Jerrod.” Starting the album this way is foreboding. The fact that the song is immediately followed by a 16-second interlude — a looped clip from a poem by Pulitzer Prize-nominated Vivian Ayers read by her daughters Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad — doesn’t help.