SZA Out for Blood and Big Mood on 'S.O.S.'

The R&B superstar delivers sharp spikes and an exciting reveal on his long-awaited second LP

IF MODERN R&B were a nineties teen melodrama, SZA would be the cool girl with Trapper Keeper full of receipts on everyone. She's the queen of the revenge fantasy—ex-pas are dumped (before being told with certainty their strokes are weak), and toxic rivals are dragged to revel in her songs, which sound like anxiety if dazzling diary entries. In the video for "Shirt", the third single from his acclaimed new album, SZA casually kills people in a restaurant singing, "Feel the grudge / Simmer in my skin." Incredibly, she makes Carrie's level of pettiness and bloodlust sound damn near angelic.

The 33-year-old's sharp roster is stunning — a crazy beat full of acrobatic twists and turns. He weaves in and out of pockets with ease, dispensing spikes that land with strained precision and automatic stops. There's nothing off guard about the music. But there's always a skewed path to transcendence in SZA's songs—meaningful digressions and scathing edges. Naturally, everything is strong, direct and precise. And the sacrifice (and hard work) is evident from the jump; it's there in the first few bars of every bop (as evidenced on "Prom", which opens with sleek vocals, whose controlled pathos is palpable). He started where many pop stars of his ilk end, finally, after, like, the eighth track on their fifth album. Without the big hooks, he still gives you the edgy, pure, and instantly memorable A1 melodies.

S.O.S., SZA's long-awaited second album, is even more fun than its 2017 debut, CTRL. The songs are looser and more confident. And the appropriate themes—revenge, nostalgia, ego—are some of the most intimate and compelling expressions of self since the Real World confession booth.

"That butt is so fat, it looks natural—no!" sneered Sol├ína-born artist Imani Rowe in the title track. Her outbursts are, in essence, self-deprecating. But he makes it sound like a supple over a damp Bible lament begging for a salon full of beauties fanning themselves (from hair dryers or scandalous anecdotes). This is the most convincing SZA ever heard. And when she compares herself to Della Reese while amplifying her steely nature, it's clear she's cementing her status—"in case all you've forgotten."

Likewise, "Kill Bill" is strictly feminist in intensity. Via eerie chords that exude fashionable late-sixties cool, SZA annihilates her foes with a hook so spiteful she might line them up in a yellow-and-black overalls. "I just killed my ex, not the best idea/Killed his next girlfriend, how did I get here?" he sings. And you get the sense that she's spent a long quarantine planning while watching Tarantino movies and bouncing back from botched affairs. “I do it all for love,” SZA insists as the track spirals into sweet chaos. If revenge is a dish best served cold, SZA's vicious confessions seem like poison-laced push-ups.

In "Low", he insists that "these bitches in my business got me out here to vote for violence". That said, the breezy piece is mainly about keeping things secret; the chorus (which wonders if you can "stay like nobody knows anything") all issue a Nondisclosure Agreement. The call to silence seems appropriate: SZA's boast that "that pussy feels like a great escape" sounds well-deserved for some travel-oriented podcast. And the snobbery continues in "Conceited," where he focuses on "me time" while ignoring his haters.

But S.O.S.'s most moving moment occurs in reflective cutting. "Blind", with its acoustic guitar and rich orchestration, finds him claiming that "my past can't escape me." And the atmosphere feels as awe-inspiring as it is enchanting—ripe for scarred, if not ratchet, SZA memories. On top of that, “Gone Girl” is filled with contemplative energy. More than a fancy chord, SZA insists she's had enough: "I need your touch and your supervision / Squeezing too tight, girl, you're losing me." But the lyrics are empowering, even as they criticize some losers who gross them out.

The album contains no missteps, although "Ghost in the Machine", with its reference to robots, seems far-fetched, much like Black Mirror's allegory of the AI Art Generator. And the competent bar sports "Smoking on My Ex Pack" by SZA, though the chorus is probably the best thing about it. Still, there's nothing like the caustic animalism of "Shirt," whose hook encapsulates everything we love about SZA: sassy, subterfuge, and unexplained bloodstains. SAUCE. stands for: Savor Our Sis. This article was written by EDUKASI CAMPUS. 

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