‘SOS’: Toxicity has never sounded so good  

SZA’s newest album, “SOS” has come out to much critical acclaim. With a more mainstream approach than in her last album “Ctrl,” “SOS” is the the perfect post-breakup album for those who would rather put their ex on blast than curl up in a corner and cry. Illustration by Zaire Diaz/The Daily Campus.

To all the SZA detractors, I’m sorry to say that SZA had the best contemporary R&B album out in 2022. “SOS” is a testament to her hard work over her last five years on hiatus and shows her taking a far more mainstream approach to her sound than in 2017’s “Ctrl.” A strong vocalist and an even stronger writer, SZA crafts the perfect post-breakup album for those who would rather put their ex on blast than curl up in a corner and cry. Simply put, it’s bad bitch music for even the most sensitive, caring and self-conscious of people. 

Blending rap, pop, rock and various contemporary R&B styles together is not for amateurs. But SZA and the team at TDE prove time and time again that she’s more than capable of rising to the occasion. On the standout hit “Kill Bill” we hear SZA describe homicidal fantasies of killing her ex in a jealous rage over a bright and pop-inspired beat. Contrast this with the jazz ensemble backing of more tender songs like “Gone Girl” and we’re treated to a medley of musical styles. 

But declaring SZA to be a talented singer and lyricist isn’t breaking news. She’s always had a propensity for singing and strong emotive lyrics that are capable of getting anyone in their feelings. What is surprising is her ability to smoothly transition from rapping to singing. Far from the pinnacle of her ex-label mate Kendrick Lamar, SZA still manages to lay down a good series of witty lines over a range of beats. 

On “Low,” the booming 808s and skittering hi-hats sound like they’d be welcome on any of our favorite Atlanta rappers’ track lists. SZA flows across the beat with confidence and a smooth vibrato, commanding that her sneaky link continues to “keep it on the lowski” to avoid having people in her business. Unintentionally, SZA might’ve given us the sneaky link anthem of the year with this one — a title normally reserved for Summer Walker or Drake. 

In another turn of events, Solána Rowe (yes, that is SZA’s real name) also managed to come out swinging with the pop-rock cut “F2F” where she declares to her ex “I fuck him ’cause I miss you” in her best Avril Lavigne-like register. To pop-rock purists, this may not be as impressive, but given this is her first delve into this genre, I think her attempt deserves some respect. 

Thematically “SOS” isn’t anything new from SZA, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less impressive that she’s able to write her feelings out into such well-formatted and thoughtful music. Feelings of isolation, anger and self-doubt all take center stage on this album as SZA contemplates a painful breakup with a long-time lover. Her descriptions of infidelity and the destruction of her self-worth are relatable to anyone who’s been cheated on or gone through the pain of a breakup. The oscillation of  “I need you, I hate you” that SZA portrays on the album allows her to continue to be as relatable as she first was all the way back on her debut project “Z.” On “SOS,” materialism takes a back seat and she actually abstains from mentioning any of the typical suspects. There are no cars, jewelry or stacks of money. At its core, this is a project about SZA and her ex — anyone or anything else be damned. 

“SOS” is an enjoyable album from start to finish with no dips in quality or production. It’s evident that SZA is “in her bag” on this album despite displaying her trademark vulnerability and self-doubt that many have come to love. But in contrast to her early work, her “fuck yous” are stronger and more confident than before — a sign that she’s really come into her own since her debut. Even if you’re not a fan of contemporary R&B, the album has something for everyone to enjoy and I can’t recommend it enough. While punching in at 68-minute runtime, the album never feels like it drags on too long, and with SZA back on top, “SOS” is a must-listen from 2022. 

Rating: 4.6/5 

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