As evident by the quirky title and unusual cover art that accompany Solange Knowles' second album, SoL Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams, Solange is a girl that marches to the beat of a slightly different drummer. No, she's not as out there as, say, Erykah Badu, but she definitely doesn't have much use for the traditional pop-R&B formula that so many artists, including her sister have used to propel themselves to stardom. And for that, she gets major props. SoL Angel, released in the U.S. on Aug. 26, 2008, is by no means a masterpiece, but it's definitely a creative, outside-the-box collection of songs.
Her Own Path
It's not really fair to compare the singing abilities of Solange Knowles to those of her older, more famous and phenomenally successful sister, Beyonce Knowles, but here's a short comparison of their personalities: while Beyonce's created an image of herself as the ultimate good girl who's a terrific role model, Solange is the overlooked and somewhat rebellious younger sibling who tries to follow her own path and stay out of her sister's shadow. Or as Solange herself sings on "God Given Name," the album's opening track: "I'm not becoming expectations, I'm not her and never will be/Two girls going in different directions, Driving towards the same galaxy, Let my starlight shine on its own."
And on the album's 13 songs, she tries her best to establish her own legacy as an important artist in her own right. The results are mixed: some songs, like the first two singles, the Pharrell Williams-produced doo-wop jam "I Decided" and the hip hop-breakbeat-based "Sandcastle Disco," are catchy, pop-influenced jams that manage to have one foot grounded in the mainstream, yet at the same time retain an independent spirit. Likewise, the upbeat moving-on-from-a-one-night-stand song "T.O.N.Y.," which has live instrumentation, including guitars, horns, drums and piano, is a treat.
A Few Flaws
Image © Geffen Records.
But the album isn't all good: quite a few songs on the album's second half, specifically the old school, Motown-style "6 O'Clock Blues," the social commentary "Ode To Marvin," "I Told You So" and "This Bird" all have smart lyrics, but otherwise are flawed due to either bad production, poor arrangement, and/or some undisciplined, mediocre singing. A surprisingly good song, though - one which epitomizes Solange's quirkiness and penchant for creativity - is "Cosmic Journey," featuring fellow free spirited singer Bilal (a man who's been missing from the music scene for far too long, by the way). The six-minute duet starts off as an Aaliyah-style soft and slow ballad, but by the end has metamorphasized into a furiously-paced Techno joint.
Two songs you won't find on the album, however are the controversial "ChampagneChronicNightcap," which is about getting drunk and high, then having sex, and "F*ck The Industry," an almost polite diatribe about the music business. This review won't get into the songs much since they're not on the album, but suffice it to say that both tracks are better than almost anything that do appear on the album, and it's especially a shame that ChampagneChronic" was left off. It's definitely worth seeking out, particularly the version without Lil Wayne.