S.O.S. by SZA: An R&B Fusion Experience Years in the Making
Media provided by Brando Babini ’23
IT WAS A THURSDAY NIGHT SPENT IN ANTICIPATION.
For the past couple of years, I had patiently waited for single after single that she had dropped, seeing them blow up on platforms like TikTok. Yet, there was not a single LP since the lustful mastery of Ctrl, an album rooted in deeply romantic and feminist songwriting, sung in the beautifully off-kilter voice. The voice — Solána Imani Rowe, more commonly known as SZA — is an R&B singer/songwriter from New Jersey.
S.O.S. differs from Ctrl slightly. The tracklist is more expansive, with 23 songs stretched over an hour of runtime. SZA is constantly in a wavering state of wanting and distancing herself from a relationship, which is her bread and butter in terms of hitting a sweet spot from a songwriting standpoint. The messages of each track are variegated but connect back to a central theme. SZA is more hostile in her intentions with this person; tracks like “Kill Bill,” “Seek and Destroy” and “Smokin on My Ex Pack” showcase an unbridledness that she possesses as a singer.
The album starts with the title track, where SZA enters with a vengeful flow speaking on the album’s larger themes, such as isolation. The circular sample loop from producer Jay Versace gives the track flavor for SZA to polyrhythmically contrast with her shining voice. Next is “Kill Bill,” a poppy cute instrumental laid over with contrasting violent images of SZA wanting to maniacally murder her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend.
Standouts from the first half of the tracklist include “Low,” “Love Language” and “Used,” the latter of which features a chorus from Don Toliver. The guests on this album are few and far between on S.O.S., but Toliver pulls through with a solid feature, and when the drums hit, they hit hard — another beneficial part of the listening experience. The first real ballad of the album is “Gone Girl,” a steady heartfelt venture into themes of love and abandonment. Changing up the album’s flow to this point, SZA starts to wane in terms of her presence as an R&B artist.
While it is usually beneficial for artists to switch up their stylistic flow mid-album, to keep things fresh and new, I do not vibe with S.O.S. in this fashion. Past “Smokin’ on My Ex Pack,” most of the tracks on the album do not hit the same level of excitement or lucidity that is imperative for a good listening experience. Instead, there are many songs such as “F2F,” an attempt at pop punk with embarrassing lyrics such as “Get a kick out of missing your gut/I hate me enough for the two of us.” Overall, this second section has a few songs that can string together in a fashion that is at my expectations as a reviewer. “Open Arms” features Travis Scott venturing into a shifted genre of singer-songwriter, and he seems a little bit uncomfortable, yet the song pulls through.
Students at Grace Church also had unimpressed opinions about the new release. I quickly interviewed two people sitting across from me in the library about the album. Jessica C.H. ‘24 says of the album: “From what I have seen … a lot of people think it sounds Country … that is really not my genre.”
Sade N. ‘24 added, saying, “Ctrl is a really good album, but S.O.S. flopped”
The album wraps up with a streak of pre-released singles from several years ago, which is unfortunate. “Good Days” is my favorite of these, as its beautiful guitar and singing from SZA turn it into an effortless hit.
S.O.S. is only the continuation of SZA’s artistic expression. Whereas Ctrl was a set narrative LP that followed more structure and was therefore a more cohesive effort, S.O.S. is SZA’s culmination of a rumination of ideas and feelings from the past five years put into many different vignettes on life, love, and relationships. Nonetheless, TDE Entertainment is lucky to have her beautiful voice shining through yet again, directly to the hearts and minds of millions of people around the world.