If Justin Timberlake annoyed you with his bad Michael Jacksonisms, you’ll probably be agitated by Solange‘s big Brandy bite. She’s not jacking Brandy’s coy round-the-way girl persona completely, but the flirty beats and the pulsating choruses are reminiscent of the hip-hop infused R&B stylings from Brandy’s self-titled debut.
Aside from that, Solange has the blessing and curse of being Beyonce Knowles’ little sister: a fact that must have influenced the quirky, loosely structured Solo Star. If you love the harmonies and attitude of Destiny’s Child and you were looking for Beyonce’s mini-me, this is the wrong album for you. Solange’s angle is precisely that: that she’s doing her own thing, independent of the independent of the Knowles’ family tradition for flamboyance on and off-stage.
If it worked for pop’s most infamous little sister (Janet Jackson), then it can work for Solange, right? Not really — at least, not yet.
Aside from an inane Scooby Doo sample, Solo Star is a refreshingly mature album. For a 16-year-old, Solange showcases a vocal maturity and depth that a lot of her teenybopper counterparts have skipped in favor of bumping and grinding (think B2K or 3LW, and the lot). She’s off course when her songs get weighed down with clichés (“Love is such a crazy thing / Like snowflakes in the spring”, for example, on “This Could Be Love” is both charming and yucky to listen to), but overall, she proves herself as one of the brighter talents in pop/R&B with a curiously eclectic collection of fast-paced made-for-the-club joints, a few pretty ballads, and an unfortunate collection of innocently cute lyrics over mostly simplistic beats.
On Solo Star , the bad news is that the sap weighs down Solange’s high points. Ah, the teenage years — crushes, house parties, and more crushes. While the production overall isn’t bad, but there’s no overarching concept: what you hear is what you get; no metaphors or interludes, just bouncy, chipper music. Maybe that’s what kids these days like — throw in some cameos with Lil’ Romeo and B2K and there are bound to be screaming teenagers begging for more.
From a glance at the album cover, it’s clear that Solange Knowles is not the sassy diva her sister is just yet. In a bohemian knit cap and a white tank top, it could be inferred that listeners will be in for a pseudo-reggae experience for much of the album. Instead, there is the sad single, “Feelin’ You”, a groovy track that makes a few steps in being longer than two minutes and featuring rapper N.O.R.E. of all people, whose flow languishes in the nuances of the remixed version. Unfortunately, there are two other versions of this song on the album, Part I and a bonus, screwed-up version that pays homage to Solange’s Houstonian roots (home of the late and regionally famous DJ Screw, who made music for the codeine cough syrup set) and is incredibly more agitating than the first two.
That said, there’s no way Luther Vandross will be able to listen to Solange and Lil’ Romeo’s update of his “So Amazing” disguised as “True Love”. In fact, it nearly made me cry to hear it and later see the video. I’m sure for kids under 10, this is an entirely new song, but once you’ve heard the original, hearing it butchered so deliberately on a song with Master P jr. is a harrowing experience.
“Get Together”, a party song about gatherings that are sort of like parties, sounds as mundane as its structure because it never gets off the ground. Speaking of stranded music, while “Crush” (produced by the Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams) is sweet, it doesn’t jibe well with Solange’s style and sounds more like something that would suit Kelis better. Solange’s midrange works better on songs like the Rockwilder-produced “Wonderland”, which showcases her lyrical maturity and skillful delivery. The combination of her confident control and original riffs makes this song the easiest one to jam to on the entire album. Trite lyrics not withstanding “This Could Be Love” is nicely done, as is “Sky Away”, the only pure ballad featured on Solo Star.
The best thing about Solange’s debut is that she has time to come into her own as an artist, develop her song-writing skills and figure out if she wants to be a descending, fast-dying comet or a sturdy, consistent presence that people continue to seek out just for the sheer pleasure of knowing she’s there.