After it’s initial announcement in 2014, alt-R&B heavyweight SZA’s debut album is finally here. Things were quite different 3 years ago, let’s remind ourselves… Belgium became the first country to legalise euthanasia to terminally ill individuals of any age, Germany won the World Cup, Barack Obama normalised long-strained relations between the
seriously imperialist United States and sunny socialist Cuba. Songs you may have been unable to escape from during this year may’ve included a double feature of Iggy Azalea courtesy of Fancy and Black Widow, Jason Derulo’s Trumpets and Wiggle and Nicki Minaj’s unforgettable Anaconda. Aside from those monster hits, it also marked 2 years since the release of SZA’s first mixtape See.Sza.Run, an eclectic blend of neo-soul, witch house and cloud-rap, I remember it being one of my first exposés to PBR&B.
2 more mixtapes, a couple of tours, countless delays, one almost-retirement and 5 years later, the album has arrived. Solid, vulnerable and the most frank SZA has ever been, to parrot a thousand year old saying, it truly was worth the wait.
Stripping back the airy reverb and busy-but-also-minimalist production that populated Z, Ctrl is a stripped back affair that places SZA’s vocals as front and centre. No one could ever sing “I been secretly banging your homeboy” as sweetly as she can and even with 4 male features on the album, none overshadow her, instead complementing the tracks. SZA sounds assured and sexually liberated on Doves in the Wind, quoted as being “dedicated to vaginas, featuring label-mate Kendrick Lamar,” whilst she seems insecure on Drew Barrymore, recalling the heartbreaking moment of bumping into an old flame who’s moved on. She commands this sadness with a hook that some may find vulgar but is irresistibly catchy [Is it warm enough for ya inside me, me, me, me
Warm enough for ya outside baby, yeah].
The toe-tapping Prom is reminiscent of the upbeat nature of some songs from her previous mixtapes and a welcome change of pace with it’s poppier rhythm. Another favourite of mine is the atmospheric, sprinkled with a chime, Go Gina, lyrically taking us back to her rebellious youth and making this her most dance-able track on the album just yet. Garden begins my displeasure with the direction of the album, a forgettable mid-tempo track, it does however contain one of my lyrical highlights “You know I’m sensitive about havin’ no booty, havin’ no body, only you buddy
Can you hold me when nobody’s around us“. The pace picks up again with interlude Wavy, sounding eerily similar to a Rihanna album cut, possibly due to James Fauntleroy’s contribution, a frequent collaborator of Fenty’s. It’s positiviely criminal that this wasn’t included as a full track considering it’s brilliance.
Counting their musical love affair, Isaiah Rashad and SZA collaborate once more n the breezy and dark Pretty Little Birds, unashamedly feminine and proudly in love she sings “I wanna take all of my hair down and let you lay in it, spread all of my limbs out and let you lay in it”
Probably the most relatable, here SZA sings being in her 20s, a period where we finally reach freedom but also encounter financial and relationship instability, the teething stages of true adulthood.
Prayin’ the 20 somethings don’t kill me, don’t kill me
SZA’s mother’s reflections on the concept of control are thoughtful interludes throughout the album. On the first track, we hear stating that her biggest fear is losing control, introducing the album’s central theme and by it’s swan song, she concludes that the chaos that rules the world is something we’d struggle to handle so fooling one’s self into believing they have control, even if it’s a lie is the best option, since “The alternative is an abyss” . SZA believes her mother’s views are beautiful and perfect and wonderfully so the irony here is how the strength of her debut is how beautifully imperfect SZA herself is.
Stream/Download Ctrl here:
Apple Music – http://smarturl.it/iCTRL
Spotify – http://smarturl.it/sCTRL
Soundcloud – http://smarturl.it/scCTRL
Tidal – http://smarturl.it/tCTRL
Amazon Music – http://smarturl.it/aCTRL
Google Play – http://smarturl.it/gCTRL
Find out more about SZA here: