Back in 2016, Solange dropped a black classic. Her breakout album A Seat at the Table opened the conversation for who was the better Knowles sister. While Beyoncé owns the popular vote, Solange’s astute outlook on the black experience showed her true colors. She is every bit an artist on the cusp of greatness. Her gorgeous single “Cranes in the Sky” remains one of the best songs I’ve heard in my lifetime. In spite of some lofty hype, I had high hopes for this new record. However, a few flags sprang up before I actually heard it. Firstly, there was no lead single. Now, Solange is not the pop star her sister is. So, in that regard, she doesn’t need to shake up the radio to maintain an image. Yet she is more than capable of delivering a buzz-worthy song to promote her album.
Secondly, the album art is eerily similar to her previous album. At first this made me think When I Get Home would be some kind of extension of her old studio sessions. But the only way to know is to press play. During my initial listen, the opening track was a head-scratcher for me. “Things I Imagined” starts a trend of redundancy in the lyrics on this album. A healthy portion of these tracks function more as motifs than fleshed-out ideas. At times, Solange pulls this off beautifully — like on “Time (is).” Following a piano cue, Knowles’ “You gotta know” refrain meshes elegantly alongside Sampha’s background vocals. As much as I love it, I still believe it could have been something greater. That is essentially how I feel about this entire record. Solange brought on an A-list team of producers and collaborators to create a delicate and ethereal listening experience.
Nevertheless, many of these songs go in one ear and out the other. It is fluid to a fault almost. Despite memorable efforts such as “Stay Flo,” “Binz,” and “Almeda,” this album’s short-and-sweet approach has a hard time sticking as a whole. Tracks “Down with the Clique” and “Way to the Show” are early standouts. They feature lush instrumentation and pleasant vocals from Solange. “Stay Flo” is this album’s rock, though. Metro Boomin and John Carroll Kirby aid Knowles in creating a wispy Southern bounce paralleled by few. Also, I must point out that Solange produced every single song here. Although this is indeed impressive, her attention to detail regarding song craftsmanship took a dive. It’s difficult to wear both the artist and producer hats. This album feels like the less interesting cousin of its predecessor.
Believe it or not, that is more of a compliment to A Seat at the Table than a dig at When I Get Home. Because this album is quite good. The production value here is high, and most of the guests perform well. If you’re looking for an album simply to vibe to, then by all means give this a listen. It has an organic groove, or sway, to it that is pleasing to the ears. However, I don’t have the luxury of listening to albums casually. So, I unfortunately have to tell it like it is. I felt as though an artist of Solange’s caliber had the freedom to wait another year to release a new project. Her prior record afforded her extra time in my book. With another eight months of maturation, this album could have been right on par or potentially more impactful than her last.