What could awaken my tormented soul from its neglectful earworm slumber other than SZA’s new album drop “SOS”? A delivery so well-crafted and long-awaited that it continues to surpass almost every milestone for the artist personally, and in the genre as a whole, since it made its leap into 2023.
Like CTRL, SOS has key themes throughout – heartbreak, revenge, loss, spiritual empowerment. You can’t have a no.1 single like “Kill Bill” without acknowledging these. But what’s most impressive and different about this album is its diversity of sound.
I’ve been listening to it for weeks and still can’t isolate one single track out of the 23 as *the* favorite. Even getting just a taste of a few standouts – “Blind,” “Seek & Destroy,” “Used,” and “Open Arms” – represents an eclectic musical palate.
The first show-stopper for me was “Blind,” where she mixes hard-hitting lines with angelic, stripped down and introspective vocals. Her “spirit speak[s] freely” in this one:
I don't want righteousness I hurt too much, I lost too much, I lust too much I hit my clutch and vroom Third day, pop out the tomb
SZA consistently delivers a particular flow and cadence in her lines that are acutely self-aware. Another key moment of self-actualization is in “Seek & Destroy,” after she finds solace in the dissolution of a toxic relationship. The music and lyrics build up to the destruction:
Now that I've ruined everything, I cannot complain Now that I've ruined everything, I'm so fuckin' free Now that I've ruined everything, keep it all for me Now that I've ruined everything, space is all I need
Like the opening words in “Far,” the sentiment here is very much “Oh, that’s great, If nobody wants you, you’re free.” She’s empowered in her space, despite the lust and loss in between.
In “Used,” the lyrics grapple with more loss, but also about speaking your truth:
To my dead homie mothers, prayin' they feel better Might get chipped mindin' my business Might get chipped sharin' my vision Might as well
We still get the familiar sense of revisiting tired exes, but still with a nod to valuing truth:
Can't lose myself to your ego, I wanna say Love me better when you try less I don't take much, just need your honesty, oh Love will work better when you confess
FWIW the inflection of the line “love me better when you try less” is an earworm all in itself.
And while we walk through a mine-field of exes in SOS, we land in “Open Arms” to catch us…only temporarily. She opens in a place of familiar self-doubt:
Chokin' on insecurity I know all this is bad But please put a leash on me anyway Who needs self-esteem anyway?
You can feel the push and pull between hers and Travis Scott’s verses, trying desperately to stay open to this love. Though this remains a song about devotion and accepting love we deserve, the gut-punch comes in the outro: “I guess it’s time to go/ I gotta let you go … Cause I’m the only one that’s holdin’ me down.”
While there’s gems abound for us sad saps on the album, it’s also playful. Some of the songs sound like they were perfectly curated for TikTok, and “I Hate U” and “F2F” truly make me lol (though I love that she went there).
SOS is genre-bending, covering everything from soul to acoustic, from trap to pop punk. With thoughtful references and samples inspired by Kendrick, Beyonce, Aaliyah, Bjork, and more on the album, SZA fans will be fed for a while.
P.S. Good luck getting tickets to any of her instantly sold out shows… you can thank Ticketmaster for being a little b*tch 🙂