Last Friday (Mar. 1), Solange released her fourth full-length album, When I Get Home. Leading up to the record’s release, Solange released snippets of music and visuals on the social media site Black Planet. Each new picture or gif heightened everyone’s anticipation for Solange’s new album. Her last record, 2016’s A Seat at the Table, was a Grammy-winning masterpiece that debuted at #1 and lifted her career to new heights. The love for Table was instant and indisputable. Yet, an interesting happened when When I Get Home was finally released: people either loved it, were bored by it, or just didn’t get it. As long as these opinions were decided after at least two or three unbiased listens and viewings of the accompanying art film, these takes are all valid.
In the era of flash think pieces, we don’t give ourselves enough time to digest works of art, especially works as meticulously layered as Home. It is completely fine to not understand, connect with, or like this record. It is also completely fine to immediately understand every detail and instantly adore the album.
When I Get Home completely eschews the traditional songwriting structure of A Seat at the Table. Tracks on the latter record (“Cranes in the Sky”; “Mad”) had recognizable hook sections and verse-chorus-verse structures. On When I Get Home, Solange favors lyrical repetition which allows her to focus on self-harmonization, vocal layering, and slight (but important) changes of intonation. Take the opening track, for example, Solange delivers the titular lyric in a different way each time on “Things I Imagined.” This allows for her voice to warp and evolve with the music in a way traditional lyricism might not have as easily allowed.
Based primarily on jazz influences and instrumentation, When I Get Home is a specific and personal love letter to Houston’s Third Ward. Now, as a born-and-raised New Yorker, I am not going to pretend that I know anything about the Third Ward’s culture. Nevertheless, what I did take away from Home, is that Houston is incredibly close to Solange’s heart and soul. Some scenes in the accompanying art film feature Houston rodeo legends riding horses and whipping lassos in the air. The bass and guitar on certain tracks have a specific twang to them that deepens the musical history on Home. On this record, Solange also blends elements of trap (“Almeda”), R&B (“Down with the Clique”), pop (“Way to the Show”), and rap (“Stay Flo”). Despite the numerous interludes and genres that are present, When I Get Home does not buckle or crumble under all of this weight. The record floats with astonishing ease and flows seamlessly which is a testament to its impeccable mixing and mastering.
On a thematic level, Solange’s dedication to Afrofuturism and Black womanism and are omnipresent and omnipotent on When I Get Home. Mourning Black mothers and futuristic slave labor are interspersed with scenes of Solange twerking in front of her laptop with a blunt in hand. The film’s use of sculpture, technology, realism, surrealism center Solange at the crux of escapism and reality. Continuing with the trend she started on Table, Solange makes sure that Home is narrated entirely by Black women. The voices of Phylicia Rashad, Pat Parker, and Diamond and Princess from Crime Mob direct the listener through the labyrinthine album. Beyond the themes and musicality of When I Get Home, the most interesting about this record is Solange’s use of other artists. Here is an incomplete list of artists who appear throughout Home: Tyler, the Creator, Cassie, The-Dream, Gucci Mane, Playboi Carti, Panda Bear, Devin the Dude, Abra, Steve Lacy, and more. The only artists with traditional guest verses are Gucci Mane (“My Skin My Logo”) and Playboi Carti (“Almeda”). Solange uses these artists as part of the overall feel and instrumentation of each track; every ad-lib is carefully placed and each of their voices play with hers in a deceptively care-free manner.
In my eyes, When I Get Home is yet another masterpiece for Solange. Nevertheless, I can see how it can be interpreted as overblown or pretentious. Solange’s heart is all over this album, you can feel her love in every chord and note. This isn’t an album to turn up and dance to, but it isn’t exactly an album to cry to either. When I Get Home is Solange’s journey back to her roots and makes you ponder your own homeward odyssey as well.
Key Tracks: “Almeda”; “Down with the Clique”; “My Skin My Logo”; “Binz”