Solange’s 2012 EP ‘True’ wasn’t perfect, but its slinky yet scuzzy alternative pop jams seemed to capture her perfectly at the time. Sure, big sister Beyoncé was the superstar, but Solange had indie cred thanks to collaborations with Dev Hynes and Dirty Projectors, and stylish live sets in east London and at The xx’s Night + Day festival. This follow-up (her third full album following 2003’s botched ‘Solo Star’ and 2008’s promising ‘Sol-Angel And The Hadley St. Dreams’) proves ‘True’ was simply one stage in Solange’s evolution. As she sings on standout track ‘Don’t Wish Me Well’, “They say I changed / But a pity if I stayed the same.”
Let’s get the obligatory comparison out the way: yes, ‘A Seat At The Table’ is an examination and celebration of black identity that arrives within six months of ‘Lemonade’, but it’s more explicit than Beyoncé’s (brilliant) album, whose most political moments occur in an accompanying film. Solange breaks down the cliché of the ‘angry black woman’ on ‘Mad’, takes ownership of her heritage on ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’, and grapples with the complexities of cultural appropriation on ‘Junie’. If any white fans listening may be tempted to complain, Solange has the answer on ‘F.U.B.U.’: “Don’t feel bad if you can’t sing along / Just be glad you got the whole wide world.”
These are complicated topics to address on record, but ‘A Seat At The Table’ succeeds because it’s musically soothing even when her lyrics are challenging. With cool, classy co-producers including Kwes, Kindness and Sampha, Solange has created a warm, balmy blend of neo-soul, low-key electro and gentle R&B, which has echoes of Prince on the funky ‘Junie’ and her own ‘True’ on the crackling ‘Don’t You Wait’. Stitched together by insightful spoken-word interludes from Solange’s parents and rap mogul Master P, ‘A Seat At The Table’ feels deeply personal and thrillingly intimate throughout.
The day before it dropped, Solange told a fan on Twitter: “‘A Seat At the Table’ is meant to provoke healing & [a] journey of self-empowerment.” That’s a weighty aim, but her music is smart, rich and thoughtful enough to pull it off.