Review Summary: Always lovely, sometimes frustrating, and emanating a hazy, warm atmosphere throughout
Solange's A Seat at the Table
is like a ray of sunlight shining through a dusty room. Delightfully pretty in its own right, it manages to make important statements about race relations with a constant calm and without shaking fists in the air.
It really is hard to imagine someone disliking this album. Whether they simply weren't moved by it or didn't find it particularly interesting is another thing, but there's just something about it that's so damn likable
. It moves along at a relentless mid-tempo, chock full of ballads and falsettos, with obvious good intentions and musical maturity. But while this makes for an incredibly relaxing and pleasant listen all around, it certainly serves as a double-edged sword.
Soft thumping percussion, gentle harmonies, the occasional minimalist brass accompaniment is always a winner of a combination for a good tune. The problem comes in about half-way through the album, when the songs all seem to blend together with a sort of swaying ease, the only separating factor being the interludes that pop in between nearly every full song on the record. There's so much to love otherwise that it never comes close to killing the work as a whole, but still it's frustrating that I could take any moment of the album and say, "Here, this is exactly what the rest of the album sounds like."
But while nearly all of the songs bear a striking similarity to each other -- to the point where it's often hard to tell them apart -- that isn't to say that the quality of the tracks is universally consistent. "Cranes in the Sky" soars high with gentle stings, playful basslines, and of course, Solange's graceful voice (likely at it's best on this track). On the other end of the spectrum, "Mad" is a merely serviceable attempt at hard-hitting R&B with a repetitive structure and tired rapped verses.
Another huge aspect of the album is the aforementioned Interludes, which almost stack up evenly in their number against the number of actual songs. They serve as an elaboration of the issues with race relations in America, each adding a different perspective and voice to the message, solidifying it much more than the songs do. This makes the overall effect and purpose of the record one of universality rather than of a personal nature, amplifying Solange's voice and ideals far beyond her own. One can't help but compare this notion to that of her sister Beyonce's album released earlier in the year, which conversely took universal ideas such as female and black empowerment and shined them through the prism of her own life.
While people will have different opinions on which approach and album they prefer, this ultimately makes A Seat at the Table
seem less like the construction of an singular artist and more like a work of a large group of people with a certain goal in mind. The split between the songs and interludes isn't always clean, and sometimes the two sounds don't sound compatible when shoved up right against each other. They sometimes disrupt the flow of the album, and one can't help but wonder if they could've been more organically woven into the music of the work as a whole.
Though all my nitpicking may make it seem as if I didn't enjoy the album, I ensure you that this is not the case. It's got a rich, full sound, and a real reason for being aside from making the artist money. And those are simply two things we can't get enough of in this day and age.