Superstar artists can light up the world, but they can also infect other artists with the dreaded Not Syndrome. What is Not Syndrome you ask? Not Syndrome occurs when someone is so dominant in their field that everyone else gets described as “not” them. Kobe’s the best ballplayer in the world, but he’s not Jordan, and while Chris Brown can do the damn thing, he's still not Usher. Tragically artists can be great in their own right, but as long as they’re not as good as their legendary comparison, Not Syndrome is almost impossible to …
DJBooth Album Review
Solange Knowles has one of the most complex cases of Not Syndrome I’ve ever seen. As the younger sister of the musical atomic bomb that is Beyonce, there is absolutely no way Solange will ever escape being called “not Beyonce.” So instead of living in her sisters’ sultry r&b shadow, Solange has instead turned her focus towards originality, working to create a sound so uniquely her own that comparison would be pointless. Enter Solange’s new album, Sol-Angel and the Hadley Street Dreams. Inspired in equal parts by 60’s Motown and 70’s funk, Hadley Street is the kind of album her sister would never make, which is exactly the point.
Just in case you haven’t already gotten the message, Hadley Street Dreams begins with God Given Name, an ambient slow jam detailing what it’s like to live with the last name Knowles. Over spacey production and muted percussion, Solange softly insists that “I’m not her and never will be...let my starlight shine on its own.” God Given Name sends an admirable message of independence, but ironically, by spending the first track of her album essentially talking about Beyonce, she’s only worsening her Not Sydrome. The disease is tricky like that.
If God Given Name is a symptom than I Decided is more like the cure. Produced by the Neptunes, I Decided bounces with a retro-doo-wop sound that combines classic soul harmonies with subtle electronic synths, a simple and clean canvas for Solange to paint with her compelling lyrics. It’s a bold musical move, and I commend her for that, but I Decided also reveals her biggest weakness. Believe me, I don’t like writing this, but the absolute truth is Solange just isn’t a very good singer, and I don’t mean in comparison to Beyonce. I mean in general. When I Decided demands power she can barely move the needle, and where I Decided asks for soulful she only sounds strained. It’s a similar problem on T.O.N.Y., the Cee-Lo penned song that’s the definition of style. T.O.N.Y. isn’t nearly as vocally demanding, instead relying primarily on Solange’s charisma to carry the day. Unfortunately Solange just isn’t that charismatic. Whatever that intangible quality Amy Winehouse had that made you hang on every breath she took, Solange doesn’t have it. Oh s**t, I just created another “not” didn’t I?
I don’t want to spend this entire review writing in the negative, I really don’t, so let’s talk more about what Solange is. There’s a very small group of artists in this world who would put out a track like Cosmic Journey, and Solange is one of them. Bilal is also a member of that exclusive group, which is why he shows up as a guest feature on the six-minute Cosmic Journey. A winding, dreamlike track, Cosmic Journey would best be enjoyed with some chemical assistance, which I can’t officially recommend, but without it Cosmic Journey’s about three minutes too long (and it’s not the only six-minute song on the album). Still it’s daringly creative, and Hadley St. Dreams is nothing if not a testament to Solange’s creative courage. Much better is Sandcastle Disco, a track that bounces with an innocent fun that shows how entertaining Solange can be when she stops trying to be herself and just is herself. It’s the best song on the album, along with enjoyably energetic Would’ve Been the One, and with some better self-editing Hadley St. Dreams could have been truly memorable. As it stands, Solange has created an album that sounds more focused on defining who she is as a person than making great music. Considering her family tree Solange has picked a hell of a career for herself, and under the circumstances she’s doing pretty damn well. Maybe someday she’ll even manage to cure her Not Syndrome, but that day is not today.
Listen to More: Solange Knowles Written by Nathan S.
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"I Decided" (2008)
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