“I’m weary of the ways of the world”, Solange declares early on in her third album, and she has good reason to be. Across A Seat at the Table’s 52 minutes, she confronts prejudice and violence, death and grief, anxiety and doubt. Her first project since 2012 new wave-inspired EP True – lush but narratively hollow – A Seat at the Table is a decidedly more ambitious, and personal, affair.
Restrained in delivery, but oftentimes scathing in its culture critique, the record places Solange at odds with the world around her – and the many injustices she sees within it, namely racism. But she doesn’t lose her cool. Contrasting the confrontational stance her sister often took on Lemonade, it would be easy to mistake A Seat at the Table as almost resigned at times. Her vocals may be light as a feather, the production airy and uncluttered, but the exasperation – and rage – is still just as palpable. “I got a lot to be mad about” she proclaims on Lil Wayne-featuring ‘Mad’ – one of the New Orleans rapper’s most affecting verses in recent memory, where he poignantly croons about attempting suicide over an emotive piano – one that courses through much of the record. Likewise, Sampha follows up his successful collaborations with Kanye West and Frank Ocean earlier this year with ‘Don’t Touch My Hair‘, joining Solange as she laments those who attempt to convince her to compromise her principles in order to feel accepted, and rejects the pressure to be submissive to such behaviour.
At 21 tracks – many of them interludes – it’s not a brisk listen. But even as Solange winds down with reflective Kelela duet ‘Scales’, you can feel her frustration that she still hasn’t had time to say all she has to say. Interludes of Solange’s parents and friends venting their frustration at the racism they experienced growing up – and still do – are scattered throughout the album, and underscore her own indignation. Above all that though, it’s a self-possessed effort. Amidst prejudice and violence, A Seat at the Table is the sound of a woman finding her voice and asserting her independence.