Solange — A Seat at the Table ANALYSIS & REVIEW
When a musician writes music for a certain purpose that goes beyond the music itself, it is noticeable in some instances that the pure musicianship falters. It has happened for hundreds of years, from the heavily religious-influenced works of the Renaissance to the programmatic Symphonies of the 1800’s to the albums of societal rebellion today. While many comparable modern musicians have struggled in this regard, Solange Knowles did not let that happen in A Seat at the Table. This is most obvious in her consistently incredible melodic shapes that soar throughout the album and bring the music to the level of quality it deserves. Even though this album obviously focused more about its message and less about the intricacies of the art, Solange still delivered plenty of intriguing melodic moments to heighten the listener’s experience.
In melody alone, Solange expertly used the artistic medium of music to enhance her statement to the world. Let me get this out of the way: it’s no To Pimp A Butterfly. It’s comparable due to its purpose and importance but it’s not on the same level of musical brilliance. Still, there aren’t a lot of musicians today that I can truly say have correctly used the medium of music for personal expression like this. With the wonderful attention and crafting of the melodies in A Seat at the Table, I believe Solange Knowles has taken a huge step in becoming an important and talented voice for this generation. The song “Cranes in the Sky” is a wonderful example. It has a solid beat and cool musical experimentation throughout, but the melody could have easily been caught up in the mood or the lyrics to even go anywhere. Instead, the melody grabs the listener’s attention, takes prominence, and delivers an unforgettable chorus that rings in everyone’s ear. The surprises in the rising and falling that the melody does throughout the album is exquisite. Even when the last couple songs sounded like they were running out of steam with musical ideas, Solange’s melodic voice always came through in the end.
What kept the melodies around a score of 40–44 instead of 45–50 was an overall lack of energy. The music was there and in the listener’s face, but the melodic deliveries didn’t have the hypnotic effect it could have had. Sometimes I felt a lack of confidence from the music that deterred me from believing that I was actually listening to good music. I certainly was, but the melodies didn’t give off the appropriate amount of energy to seem like they believed in themselves. With this successful album now out, perhaps Solange will find the missing energy and confidence in her future sound.
Don’t get me wrong; this album was full of great musicianship that was needed by today’s music world. Solange does have some shortcomings, though, and A Seat at the Table shows that harmony is not her strong suit, at least in this particular work. Many will overlook this or simply mistake a few added color tones for being enough creativity, but I won’t let it slide. If anything stops this album from being one of the best musical outputs of the year, it’s the conglomerate of odd and unfriendly harmonies that lay in the background don’t help much with the overall sonic experience. The best thing about them was the cool ornamentation that existed in every song. The chords never sounded plain or unbearably transparent; they used a good amount of interesting material to sound fresh and unique that already bests most of the pop output today.
However, while interesting, there was not much sense of support or direction throughout the harmony to truly add any spirit to the song. “Mad” was the exception, which had a strong and likeable harmonic progression in the piano that really drove the song. It helped that the interlude before it prepped us for the harmony, or else it may have gotten lost in the texture. It was great that nothing came off as boring or dull, but it was sometimes a little too weird for what the rest of the song had. At least it was consistent, which I would take in an album over a massive separation in quality from song to song. It did keep its integrity and gave the album a unique twist, which is always accepted. As a musician, it simply sounds like Solange needs a bit of work to do on her harmonic language. The harmonies were important but never really supportive.
Smooth and steady is never a bad thing, especially since it is deceivingly difficult to do. A Seat at the Table gets its wonderful consistency from the soothing beats of the rhythm section that go together nicely with the layer of vocals, piano and electronics. The songs “Rise” and “Don’t Touch My Hair” had the most effective timbres because it included strong builds and textural changes while still maintaining the feeling of smoothness and jive. The other songs didn’t quite have those nice builds or sense of motion.
Stagnancy was the main downfall of the timbre, but it didn’t hurt too much since the one sound it had was nice and easy to listen to. While I fully enjoyed the rhythm section and the use of piano, I was not so much a fan of the heavy backup vocals that always seemed to be present. There was a big reliance on the secondary vocals throughout this album, which would’ve been fine had they truly worked well with the melody and not sounded flimsy. Their lines didn’t really provide great backup to the melody, and at times they came off as whispers that got in the way of the music. Less use of secondary vocals would have been appreciated, but the overall solidity and groove of the rhythm section is what really gave great effectiveness to this album’s sound. Many musicians today are on the timbre wagon and giving their sound itself more attention than anything, so anything less from Solange would have been a disappointment. A Seat at the Table has a sound that certainly keeps up with her contemporaries. As if it needs saying, her lyrics are exceptional and powerful. This album would not be half as influential without her words.
Without regards to anything musical, I must give honor where honor is due. In short, Solange Knowles is an honorable human being for creating this album. She has used the power of music to once again raise important questions about societal values and ethics. The minority’s voice has too often been shut out or gone unheard throughout history, and A Seat at the Table is once again another reminder that we need to listen harder. It’s a subject that easily attracts attention and may seem bloated or as an effortless way to gain importance. Sure, it’s easy to attract attention through exploiting societal controversies. While it isn’t exactly poetic, it is still an important subject. The fact is that this album will gain a huge amount of attention and support whether you like it or not. I must honor that, and will go on to stay that this is one of the most culturally important albums of the year.