Review by Dean Lucas.
Is it really that cynical to think that Matthew Knowles is actually trying to seize control of the music industry through his two daughters? After helming the career of one of the reigning Queens of Pop, Beyoncé, the Knowles family patriarch seems like he’s priming his youngest daughter, SOLANGE, to take the throne as Queen of Indie. Gone is the slightly left-of-centre soul/R&B of ‘SolAngel’ and ‘Solange and the Hadley St. Dreams’ that inadvertently cast her into the inescapable shadow of her older sister. In its place is what is essentially a distillation of the current zeitgeist in the popular alternative to Top 40 music; an indie-pop appropriation of quiet storm R&B (think Jessie Ware) and 80’s pop (think Madonna circa ‘Like a Prayer’), released on a label owned by one of the biggest indie bands in the world (Terrible Records, owned by Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear), and produced by indie-pop songwriter extraordinaire, Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange and Lightspeed Champion). ‘True’ is an interesting name for this release because it all just seems a little too good to be true, doesn’t it? It’s tempting to write it off as the calculated creation of an A&R representative trying to make her seem “alternative”, but Solange herself insists that this release is a bonafide mission statement of her independence; from the labels she once languished in and from the people who cast her into her into the abyss of expectations.
Whether you buy into how organic Solange’s new direction is, ‘True’ does do two things really well. Firstly, it beautifully captures everything that the cool kids love about indie-pop at the moment. The faraway standout, ‘Losing You’, seduces you with warmth created by the glowing embers of 80’s pop and Afro-tinged percussion. It’s at once comforting and melancholic, as it never boils over into full-blown diva histrionics and instead chooses to keep its composure while ruminating on feelings of loss on the inside. It’s a Pity about that unnecessarily repetitive screech throughout though. Elsewhere, ‘Look Good With Trouble’ has the same gentle heartbeat as the xx’s contemporary R&B, while ‘Locked In Closets’ has drops of Prince-like synth-funk. ‘Some Things Never Seem To Fucking Work’ has the same momentum as that awful Tears For Fears song, ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’. ‘True’ is a bit of a scavenger hunt of influences in the “vintage” store of music (i.e. nothing more than 30 years old), but it’s all put together nicely with self-aware charm. However, Solange also shows she’s capable of creating something compelling without having to scavenge for the world’s hottest trends on ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, an odd delight of lightly psychedelic soul with an amorphously, twisting melody. It shows an entirely unique character unlike anything else on here.
Secondly, had you not known who her sister was, you wouldn’t even think to make the comparison between them because ‘True’ sees Solange bow out from anything resembling a competition. (Except maybe ‘Lovers In The Parking Lot’, which sounds somewhere between Queen B and Emeli Sandé.) There are no raw displays of vocal power or incessant melismas that go on for eternity. Her voice is much more delicate and silken, and her lyrical content is more confessional than inspirational. Paradoxically, this comparison only serves to highlight the differences between two people who will inevitably be compared throughout their careers, and it’s good to see Solange embrace her differences head on by finding musical styles that fit her like a glove.
Indeed, ‘True’ is a lovely-sounding record that is immaculately put together and despite any cynicism that surrounds it, it’s actually commendable how it nails the sounds of what are considered the “hot jams” at the moment. But as much as ‘True’ functions a bold introduction to the “real” Solange Knowles, by the end of it you’ll still end up wondering whether you actually know the real her. In other words, it raises the question of whether she has truly found comfort in this new sound or will she merely scrape the cream off the top of the next lot of hot sounds in ‘indie’ music the next time around?” At the moment, this is anyone’s guess, but ‘True’ certainly is interestingly enough to make you want to know the answer when it arrives.