Mario and Luigi. Thor and Loki. Alec Baldwin and all other manner of Baldwin. Pop culture loves a good tale of sibling rivalry. It also loves Beyoncé. But does it have room in its heart for the youngest Knowles?
Ever since she was wearing her older sister’s hand-me-down denim jumpsuits, Solange Knowles has been hovering around the edges of the music world, either as a backup dancer for Destiny’s Child or as the voice behind that one Disney cartoon you vaguely remember. But if you’re looking for loggerheads, it seems Solange doesn’t have time for that. She’s not her sister, and you won’t find her recording skim-milk versions of “Single Ladies” any time soon.
If you couldn’t tell from 2010’s pleasant Sol-Angel and The Hadley Street Dreams, the Knowleslette is big on style, climbing toward whatever “artistic integrity” happens to look like to her. On Sol-Angel, it was retro-cool-neo-soul in the vein of Duffy and Estelle. That was a good bandwagon for 2010. But for 2012? Throw on your dreamcatcher earrings and neon windbreaker, because Solange is going full Hipster Runoff with True.
All you need to listen to is “Losing You.” Solange didn’t even need to bother making it the lead track; she could have just written “I Want This Album To Sound Like The Musical Version Of Nylon Magazine” on the album cover. (It’s not like she had any better cover art ideas, after all.) Decked out with plenty of tropical/Afropop trappings, “Losing You” is the spiritual successor to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long.” Solange’s modest vocal range is well-suited to the track’s calm coolness, and it certainly sounds current without sounding desperate. Most importantly, it’s furiously catchy. For a pop song, it’s a home run.
“Locked In Closets,” True’s next best number, has the danceable R&B vibe of Katy B with the vulnerability of Bat For Lashes, but it mostly sounds like a heretofore-unheard-of Janet Jackson song. Therein lies the best description of Solange: She’s the Janet to her older sister’s Michael. In terms of style, one sibling goes for showstopping, the other goes for smooth.
Unfortunately, True’s devotion to being cool is also its biggest flaw. Bless her heart, but Solange is trying so hard, and like a painting that shows the brushstrokes, this album wears its motives a little too shamelessly at times. The soul flourishes that worked well on Sol-Angel are entirely contrived on “Don’t Let Me Down,” and “Bad Girls” is merely bad Mariah Carey karaoke.
If you’ve got some weird desire to be mad at something, cue up “Some Things Never Seem to F—ing Work,” which belongs in whatever record store dollar bin Solange dug it out of. Featuring the worst and only reference to “Jimmy John’s” in modern pop lyricism, it’s not even funny-bad. It’s just a groaner — a shame, because you get the embarrassing feeling that it was supposed to be True’s stab at a deeply personal track.
Flawed but not broken, True is all about the bright spots. Luckily, those spots sparkle, anchored by a truly great lead single. You wouldn’t expect “Thriller” from Janet Jackson. You would want “Nasty.” Keep that in mind, “Irreplaceable” fans, when you give Solange a spin.
(1) “Losing You”
(3) “Locked in Closets”
(4) “Lovers in the Parking Lot”