It’s been five years since SZA released an album, even after teasing it since the release of her singles, “Good Days” and “Hit Different (feat. Ty Dolla Sign)” in 2020. Now, the R&B singer is done tricking fans, releasing her third album, “SOS” for all to listen to.
Much like her previous album, the Grammy-nominated “Ctrl,” this album focuses a lot on heartbreak, missed opportunities, self-reflection and most importantly, growth. Yet, while “Ctrl” was simply a statement piece for SZA, “SOS” is a body of work that has a lot of flaws and loose ends, tying in too many genres that don’t necessarily flow together.
With 23 songs, it’s easy to get lost in what SZA is trying to say, but there are also moments on the album where some of its songs are simply beautiful and euphoric, making it not necessarily a perfect record, but one that you can still listen to and enjoy.
As usual, SZA is very candid with listeners, especially within the first few opening tracks. “Kill Bill,” a reference to the Quentin Tarantino film, sees the singer channel a murderer, wanting to kill anyone in the way of what she thinks is her true love. “I might kill my ex, not the best idea / His new girlfriend's next, how'd I get here? / I might kill my ex, I still love him, though / Rather be in jail than alone” is a line that exhibits the craziness in the singer’s voice, but also of her inner thoughts, causing the track to instantly stand out.
One thing about “SOS” is that its transitions are flawless, even if each song is pulling listeners in the opposite direction. Following “Kill Bill,” comes “Seek & Destroy,” a cocky, vengeful song where SZA reflects on ruining a relationship, but also feeling free from codependency. The track is short though, instantly moving into “Low,” containing hints of adlibs from rapper Travis Scott, who’s featured later in the album on “Open Arms.”
“Blind,” a song SZA recently performed on “SNL” last week, is one of the most poignant songs on the album by far, a tell-all confessional of the singer’s opinions and reflections, with only her voice and a ukulele-esque backtrack. Lyrics, “It's so embarrassing / All of the things I need living inside of me / I can't see it / It's so embarrassing / All of the love I see living inside of me / I can't see, I'm blind” proves her insecurities, as well as the concept of time passing her by, and as strings slowly come into the background, the song acts as one of the many climaxes of the album.
The songs following “Blind” don’t really hold any magic or depth to them, almost as if they were filler songs until one of the most highly anticipated duets on the album, “Ghost in the Machine (feat. Phoebe Bridgers),” roles around. While many were surprised to see these two artists collaborate, this track is another focal point of “SOS,” proof that SZA isn’t afraid to incorporate alternative and R&B sounds into her work.
Begging for a sense of honest emotions and connections from the people around her, this song is simply a cry for help, and maybe a cry for change. Overall, it’s a flawless track, especially when Bridgers sings, “I was yours for free / I don't get existential / I just think about myself and look where that got me / Standin' on my own in an airport bar or hotel lobby / Waiting to feel clean / That's so fucking boring.”
*“F2F” is definitely SZA’s downfall on this album, sounding way too much of the cheesy pop punk many mainstream artists are trying to adopt, and it doesn’t make any sense at all amongst the other tracks. Luckily, the track after it, “Nobody Gets Me,” is a stunning ballad, the singer admitting that even though the relationship she’s in has many toxicities to it, she still doesn’t want to be with anyone else.
“Special” sees SZA reminisce on a verbally abusive relationship, revealing that someone made her deeply insecure through their comments and comparisons, which has continued to affect her self-perception. “I gave all my special / Away to a loser / Now I'm just a loser / I used to be special / But you made me hate me / Regret that I changed me / I hate that you made me / Just like you” is a relatable line for many, showing that even someone as famous as the singer can still struggle deeply with her appearance and likeliness.
The end of the album contains many of SZA’s already-released songs for the album, most importantly “Shirt.” This song is exactly what we needed from the singer, a sassy, sensual song about wanting to break free from the frustration and stress in her life.
“Good Days” and “Forgiveless (feat. Ol’ Dirty Bastard)” finalize SZA’s journey, totaling one hour and eight minutes. The album’s conclusion also signals the end of her five years’ worth of experiences and setbacks. The two tracks emulate the end of settling for less, wanting to move on from the past and go out into the world more confident and carefree than before.
All in all, “SOS” is a lengthy but worthy listen, and while it’s not perfect, SZA is pushing herself as an artist, creating music that stretches and aims to achieve more, making it worth the five-year wait.