It must be pretty awesome to be a member of the Knowles family. Sure, we all call our brothers and sisters by their first names, but only this family is so damn famous that the rest of the world only knows them by mononyms. Self-described ‘bad girl’ and younger sister to the reigning Queen of Pop, Beyoncé, Solange has had a difficult ride towards capturing public imagination. A former understudy of Destiny’s Child who had more than a few false starts of her own, Solange’s musical development has experienced far more self-imposed twists and turns than her big sisters’, despite the fact that both were managed by their father as young women. However, it was seeing Solange perform at the recent Falls Festival in Byron that brought home the fact that while she may yet to have found her own musical niche, her voice and performance are without a doubt ready, locked and loaded.
Solange had varying levels of success with her first two solo records, during which she had already become a mother, but it was her follow-up EP, True, which recast her as an alternative favourite for Pitchfork readers and Portlandia watchers the world over. Unsurprisingly, the album was written and produced in collaboration with one-man hit-store Dev Hynes (Blood Orange, MKS, Lightspeed Champion), which accounts for its heavy ’80s leanings as well as the superb melodies. If some of these songs seem a bit too languid on wax, seeing Solange, all big hair and long legs, busting it out on stage reaffirms them as serious propositions. That voice, while different, certainly comes from the same magical gene pool.
The two big hits from this EP – and that’s pretty impressive itself given that there’s only seven songs – ‘Losing You’ and ‘Lovers In The Parking Lot’ really do sound like Cyndi Lauper and her ilk in an updated setting, but the track that I keep coming back to on True is ‘Bad Girls’, which rounds out the collection. There are a number of reasons for this; the bass line is inspired, so much so that the edit which made it onto the final mix is named for the player, Verdine White of Earth Wind and Fire. Those processed MPC drums are as loping as any of the tracks, but they at a tempo which seems mournful, rather than lazy, and allow Solange full breathing space to exercise all of the contours of her voice. Her range is more effective at the lower end of the spectrum, preferring to put her top notes into falsetto rather than roar them like her sister. It’s a completely different tone, but it allows her to access a set of emotions which at times seem far more authentic. Even the space she affords herself to call and respond with the electric guitar after the first chorus before breaking into ad-libs…you can’t do that sort of thing when you’re being marketed as a hit-maker. Ironically, the success of Solange as a live act and the critical response to this EP may land her in precisely that kind of territory, but for now, to sit back and let that real pain, sensuality and longing wash over you.
She might be a bad girl, but this is all kinds of good.
Solange – ‘Bad Girls (Verdine Version)’