Review: Solange’s ‘A Seat At The Table’ is an instant protest-soul classic

Solange’s A Seat At The Table already feels guaranteed a spot in the pantheon of Black Lives Matter-era protest albums — especially remarkable given how effortless, unforced, and non-epic it is. Unlike something like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, which aims for roughly the same scope as, say, Angels In America, A Seat At A Table feels like a simple labor of love, a chance for a singer with a big platform to vent on an issue close to home.

A Seat At The Table’s truths are expressed simply and directly, both in the songs and the interludes that divide them. There’s no misinterpreting Solange’s mom Tina when she calmly, clearly dismantles the absurd logic of “reverse racism.” It might take a bit more effort to parse something like “You want to be the teacher/don’t want to go to school/don’t want to do the dishes/just want to eat the food,” on “Junie.” If you’re already versed in the cultural-appropriation debate, this line will probably make sense. If you’re not, it’s hard to argue with such hard truth.

My favorite line on the album is probably “some shit you can’t touch,” from “F.U.B.U.” Have any five words in a song served as a more succinct rebuke to appropriation, white-splaining, the defense of egregious racism in the name of “humor” and the fetishization of black bodies?

But A Seat At The Table isn’t a monomaniacal treatise. “Cranes in the Sky” catalogs hedonism in the pursuit of escaping existential dread. “Scales” is a good old-fashioned sex jam with a turn from Kelela, the underground phenomenon who seems to be plotting world domination through guest appearances, Bruno Mars-style. “Where Do We Go” is a lovers-on-the-run ballad that, like Baths’ “Heart,” quietly suggests the song’s heroes are escaping more than just a weary small-town life.

This is Solange’s third album, not counting 2012’s tantalizing EP True, and easily her best. This is especially remarkable given the stylistic left turn it represents. No two Solange albums sound the same, from the Timbaland/Neptunes trunk-rattle of Solo Star to the soul revivalism of Sol-Angel And The Hadley St. Dreams to the lush, ‘80s-inspired indie-pop of True. This one is all soft, slow-burning funk of the sort the Soulquarians mastered towards the turn of the millennium.

A lot of these songs here seem to end mid-sentence, which is unfortunate; funk songs this rich and languid would be more satisfying if they unspooled to the length they deserved. A Seat At The Table feels a bit like a 78-minute neo-soul opus crammed into 51 minutes. But aside from this — and Lil “racism doesn’t exist” Wayne showing up to rant about being “Mad” about nothing in particular on a song that’s explicitly about black female rage — A Seat Of The Table is pretty much a flawless album, and one of the best of this already fruitful year.

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