Half a decade later, we've finally got a new SZA album. A collection of 23 songs displaying her range and tapping into her vulnerability, SZA's latest album is both sexy and sad. It's block your ex and his new bitch music that's been on repeat since it's come out. Every single song is catchy and well written, something that SZA's no stranger to and while Ctrl's a tough act to follow, SOS is definitely doing what needs to be done for sad girls everywhere.
The lyrics on this album are really satisfying to the ear, especially when they tie in with her other songs. On "Love Language" she switches from seductive "Sex hittin' like a slow jam, stick around 'cause I want to" to vulnerable "You remind me I'm imperfect and it sucks to admit". The progression on 'Kill Bill' from 'I might kill my ex' to 'I just killed my ex' helps progress the storytelling on the track. On 'Ghost in the Machine' she references the machine "Let's talk about A.I., robot got more heart than I / Robot got future, I don't / Robot get sleep, but I don't power down", the lyrics are as dystopian as the production. On 'F2F' she sings 'You got no loyalty, you push me 'til I pop off' and reiterates that on 'Smoking on my Ex Pack' where she raps 'You push it, I might pop'. She addresses those BBL rumours in 'Conceited': I don't feel guilty about it / I just got my body done, ain't got no guilt about it / I just heard your opinion, I could've did without it" - all curves, no remorse. Her storytelling on 'Special' pays so much attention to detail, "I wish I was that girl from that Gucci store / She never wore any makeup and she owns couture". She then follows it up with "Hate how you look at her 'cause you never saw me / Like I was an art piece, like I was an ordinary girl" which is a reference to 'Normal Girl' off of Ctrl.
She's annunciating a lot more on this album, that's for sure but she's also demonstrating a variety of vocals that range further than the pop R&B we got on Ctrl. On 'Blind' we've got these Ariana Grande-esque whispering, near-whistle tones. Meanwhile the chorus on 'Ghost in the Machine' features Don Toliver-like inflections. SZA's tapping into rap on 'Smoking on my Ex Pack' and 'Forgiveless'. And on 'F2F', nostalgia sits in the room alongside Taylor Swift, Hannah Montana and Paramore and those Taylor vibes carry over to 'Nobody Gets Me'.
Production credits boast the likes of Jay Versace, Still Woozy, Babyface, Benny Blanco and Darkchild. The production on the album itself explores a range of sounds. 'Low' sounds like somewhere between trap and the strip club, similar to 'Shirt'. 'Conceited' has got this candy drip bounce to it. 'Nobody Gets Me' and 'Special' feature melancholic guitar'. 'Snooze' and 'Love Language' are also guitar heavy but sultrier in melody.
The features on SOS range from members of JACKBOYS to indie rock singer Phoebe Bridgers. Don Toliver shines on the 'Used' chorus, his icy vocals compliment SZA's and glide over the production with ease. SZA and Travis Scott reunite on 'Low' and 'Open Arms', Travis takes the backseat on 'Low', his iconic adlibs and autotune backing vocals really elevate the tempo of the track. On 'Open Arms', Travis' verse has so much vocal texture as he pours his heart out, ranging from melodic rapping to singing to high pitched adlibs to mellow croons in the background. Phoebe Bridgers' melancholic voice fits right into the sombre production on 'Ghost in the Machine' and juxtaposes SZA's soft yet alluring vocals. The sample of 'The Stomp' by Ol' Dirty Bastard.
The title track 'SOS' flips the vocals and instrumental from 'Until I Found the Lord (My Soul Couldn't Rest)' by The Gabriel Hardman Delegation and also interpolates 'Listen' by Beyoncé. 'Love Language' samples Aaliyah's "I Don't Wanna", SZA's vocals sit in a lower pitch as the distortion carries through the sample of 'Hit Different', which her comeback single didn't make it to the album tracklist, it makes it's appearance here instead. 'Smoking on my Ex Pack' features a high pitched loop of 'Open Up Your Eyes' by Webster Lewis, and it's chopped finer and looped in other places to really immerse into the rhythm of the beat. Björk's ethereal vocalisations on 'Hidden Place' get some slow kick drums on 'Forgiveless' while the sample of 'The Stomp' by Ol' Dirty Bastard gives it that grit and allows the beat to get all the more menacing.
The album has movie references scattered throughout. On 'Kill Bill', the first verse is full of references to the film. "I'm still a fan even though I was salty" refers to Bill's feelings about his ex lover as he's singing her praises but still wants her dead. The chorus does a great job of vocalising that "if I can't have you no one can" sentiment. The next lines of the first verse reference the characters in Kill Bill: "Hate to see you with some other broad, know you happy", broad sounds similar to bride which alludes to the protagonist of Kill Bill aka The Bride. "Hate to see you happy if I'm not the one drivin'" seems to be a reference to Elle Driver. On the second verse of 'Snooze', SZA references Scarface: In a droptop ride with you, I feel like Scarface (Scarface) / Like that white bitch with the bob, I'll be your main one', the car that's driven in Scarface is a Cadillac droptop and the second line references Elvira Hancock, the love interest of main character Tony Montana.
'Gone Girl' refers to the movie from the same name and the thriller's themes of abandonment within relationships courses through the veins of the song. Lastly, SZA references Save The Last Dance on 'Blind' - 'I ain't no Julia Stiles, this ain't no last dance, way past it'.
SZA's late grandma offered so many anecdotes throughout Ctrl and appears on Open Arms.
SZA has said this will be her last album and while we definitely hope it's not, it's a damn good parting gift.
Review written by the one and only Kat Friar