PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Solange Goes Home to Houston for the Dreamy 'When I Get Home'

Solange's abstract fourth album When I Get Home plays like a dream, but its logic is sound.

When I Get Home


1 March 2019

Solange repeats "I saw things I imagined", or some variation thereof, 16 times in the first minute of When I Get Home. Sometimes it's just "things I imagined". Sometimes she emphasizes one word over another. Sometimes she burrows into her throat and her voice emerges a little deeper and duskier than before.

If that sounds a bit daft to you, it comes with the territory. When I Get Home requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief—maybe not quite an inclination to believe in the supernatural, definitely a willingness to let reality slip. The more she repeats the phrase, the deeper the mystery becomes until an upward keyboard trill interrupts and the record blossoms to life.

When I Get Home's biggest risk is that it sounds a little stupid. In contrast to the tersely worded polemics of 2016's A Seat at the Table, the lyrics here often come up blank or are hard to understand. Words like "dreams" are repeated. Pearly synths form florettes as Solange perpetually sighs in a faraway coo. Small wonder it's inspired by Stevie Wonder's pseudoscientific The Secret Life of Plants.

But anyone who's heard A Seat at the Table, one of the best polemical albums of recent years, knows Solange is a smart woman. Detractors who can't see her as anything but the scion of an aristocratic pop family, the Knowles clan of Beyoncé fame, will confuse its effortlessness with a lack of effort and use it as fodder to argue she did nothing to earn her success. An interlude on the record lands as a preemptive criticism: "Do nothing without intention."

It's especially common for female artists and artists of color to face accusations of flubbing lines that'd be seen as clever if written by, say, Elvis Costello. Recall Lil Wayne's lasagna lyric. Or her sister Beyoncé's "algebuhh" line on "1+1=2". When I Get Home isn't dumb. It just deals in the abstract, and abstract art will always draw the "my kid could paint that" criticism. As much as When I Get Home plays like a dream, its logic is sound.

The theme of When I Get Home is, of course, home. For Solange that technically means Houston, which here means collaborations with Houstonians like Devin the Dude and staggered beats from the chop-shop of DJ Screw. The connection is much more obvious in the black cowboy fantasia of the album's visual component, which debuted in nine venues in that town from her mom's old hair salon to the only black-owned bank in Texas.

But the music itself feels like a sort of cocoon enclosing the singer. It doesn't use reverb and distant samples in the way ambient music does, to suggest the world opening up around it. It leaves great amounts of space between the beats, as A Seat at the Table does, and then ties up the ends with searching synth chords (jazz band Standing on the Corner backs her for much of the album). The sense of engulfment is uncanny.

"Holistic" is a common new age line, but that's what When I Get Home is. Six of 19 tracks are interludes. Its songs don't typically dally much past three minutes, and those that do end up far from where they began. This isn't the half-assery of latter-day Kanye or the wabi-sabi of Rihanna's Anti: this thing is really meant to be taken as a piece. "The one" is clearly "Almeda" with its snippy Playboy Carti verse list of black-owned things, and even that song kinda appears out of the mist.

When I Get Home sounds worse when you break it into its individual parts. After about four listenings the feeling sets in that this thing could use more songs and fewer miasmas. "My Skin My Logo" spends far much time goofing around before it bursts into "Strawberry Letter 23" histrionics at the end. These revelations take away only slightly from the first few listens, when it was fun following the smoke to see which way the wind blows.

It doesn't exactly reveal new worlds with repeat listens. It just becomes more familiar, which is probably the point. You start to anticipate things, like that wondrous choir-synth on "Sound of Rain" or how her voice gradually breaks into laughter on "My Skin My Logo", or that part on "Way to the Show" when she sings "drop it down low to the floor" and the most incredible funk burbles pop out of the distance.

One of my favorite things about When I Get Home is it doesn't end abruptly like so many albums do, casting us out into the crickets and car noises the real world. That'd be depressing. This thing really ends. She says "goodnight" like she's walking a good neighbor to her door, then reprises a melody from "Things I Imagined" to bring it full circle. The whole thing wraps up with a spectacular chord. It's perfect.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.


'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Nudges Out Conscience in Our Time of Crises

Avatar shows us that to fight for only the people we know, for simply the things that affect us personally, is neither brave nor heroic, nor particularly useful.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.