Solange Knowles (her first name is pronounced so that it rhymes with mélange, with two syllables) is obviously the younger sister of Beyoncé Knowles. Like big sister, she’s an R&B thrush, and that’s where the similarities end. In fact, maybe “R&B” goes a little too far — she completely ignores current radio trends for a retro 80s feel: Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Prince side projects, that kind of thing. I get the feeling she completely abjures star power — although she’s quite attractive, her visage doesn’t beckon come hither on her record cover, opting instead for a red field on which the title appears very subtly, lightly tinted, at the bottom.
Something about this modus operandi strikes me as very purposeful. On good records and bad, her big sister always goes for the jugular — big beats, big guitar, big hooks, big voice, Superbowl Sunday, national anthem. By contrast, nothing on Solange’s record is as obvious as “Single Ladies” or “Bootylicious.” ”Losing You,” the first track, is constructed like a hymn, even-keeled, moving along with a complicated rhythm track that moves the song forward without breaking out. The next song, “Nothing Ever Seems to Fucking Work,” strikes me as missed opportunity, especially compared to a coup like Robyn’s “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do” — equally as subtle as “Losing You,” its prime draw is Solange’s phrasing, which is her main strength.
Everyone seems to love this record, and I can’t deny its quality. But the whole thing is far too affected, calculated. Of course, Beyoncé’s shit is calculated too, but in an entirely different way — everything is amped, charged with the artist’s charisma. Solange unquestionably has her own charisma, but nothing here challenges the throne, let alone tops “When the Night Falls,” her cameo on the last Chromeo record. Taking the high road, taking the low road — isn’t there a middle ground? I’m going *** on this one.