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.





90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?


HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.


Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.


How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.


Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.


Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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