June 9 could have not taken any longer to arrive for those who have been waiting three years for a new project from the TDE princess SZA. Nonetheless, I was quite confident before listening that it was worth the wait.
“Love Galore” and “Broken Clocks” being released ahead of the album were perfect teases for what was in store. SZA got her fans losing control before she even gave us the full dose of what she had been crafting.
SZA’s sound is refreshing and resonant of her predecessors (such as Marsha Ambrosius, Erykah Badu etc.) Her sultry vocals and pensive lyricism is bound to draw anyone into her sound. From the beginning to the end of this album you will be left in awe at the simplistic yet artistic elements of the beat construction to her vocal delivery.
CTRL explores elements of sex, relationships and typical female insecurities in a relationship. Not as obviously as one would assume, however.
This is where the creative elements of this project are highlighted. Even down to the choice of name for her album SZA states; “I have lacked control my whole life and have always tried to arrive at it but now I am not trying to anymore. I am just happy to be present” (The Breakfast Club Interview).
CTRL clearly demonstrates her growth and confidence in her sound and vocal prowess. Through this review I aim to take you on a little musical journey whilst trying to decode her lyricism.
Starting with track number 2, “Love Galore,” which was the initial record released by SZA, Before we got the official audio, there was a phone recorded version of the song floating around the internet a few months ago on YouTube. I was one of the fans who actually listened to this version religiously until thankfully there was no longer a reason to.
April 27 the official track was live on all streaming services and YouTube. A day later we got the illustrious music video featuring Travis Scott. The video sees the two getting intimate until the very end where once she is done masking her pain and has him ‘removed permanently’ (if you know what I mean).
Having listened to the song more I totally see the anger unravelling as she ties him up whilst singing the song seductively to him (Travis). The song is clearly addressing her relationship with a guy who is unable to be committed to her, “why you bother me when you know you don’t want me / why you bother me when you know you’ve got a woman.”
Travis finishes off her second verse giving his perspective, or rather the male perspective, of the issue being discussed. Listening to Travis rap in this actually made me appreciate his ability to rap a lot more as we get less of the auto-tune and more of an intimate verse that allowed us, as listeners, to evaluate SZA’s predicament a little more.
Nonetheless from the beat to her vocal aptitude, SZA soothingly takes her listeners on an emotional journey that I am sure many can relate to without being overly descriptive. I feel that this may be her best record off the album for the simple facts stated.
Carrying the momentum of the sultry sounds from “Love Galore,” we get to the middle of the album and are taken away from her neo-soul sound to an R&B track titled, “The Weekend.” Here the piano synths lead us into a few piano chords backed by rhythmic drum hats.
Upon listening to the song initially, I felt Bryson Tiller track would have been a good feature. If he was on her level (artistically), a collaboration may have been quite an exciting listen.
Nonetheless, 57 seconds in and we finally get to her vocals and instantly she is letting it be known of her disappointment of her situation outlined in the line, “How you want me when you have a girl?”
This is definitely not a situation many women would be shocked to hear about, however the choice of beat and choice of words makes this song a little more empowering than (morally) it should be.
I say this because by the time she gets to the chorus she exclaims, “My man is my man, is your man / I just keep him satisfied through the weekend,” which suggests that she has accepted her position as the other woman.
Or so I thought at first.
Upon listening to her interviews (almost all that are out there) in the lead up to the release of CTRL, SZA makes it quite clear that these are situations that she was in unknowingly at the time but now she has decided to sing about them as if she did (taking power back of the situation she was subjected to, is how I am interpreting it from her interviews).
The song is a vibe from beginning to end and her voice so soothingly creates a vivid picture of a very complex and upsetting situation.
She does not stop there though. As we get further along the 14 track album we get to an interlude which I am obsessed with titled “Wavy.” Asides from the mellow and addictive beat we get to hear the uber talented James Fauntleroy. SZA and James on being featuring on the same track, foreshadows the title of the song.
The song is light on the ears as opposed to the remainder of the album. By this I mean, the message being relayed is not as deep. The two discuss a rather laissez-faire approach to life, “you know just taking it slow”. SZA and James are simply saying that they have found a way to cope with the turbulences in life, by being “wavy.” The interlude playfully contrasts from her earlier grievances in the previous songs.
It does conveniently however wind down the project as the remainder of the songs are quite soulful and therefore much slower in tempo in comparison to the first half of the album.
SZA has not only strategically told her story through her lyricism but has structured it so even listening to it from beginning to end you are smoothly yet vividly transported from song to song.
At least we know that the years of missing out on good music was not completely in vain. CTRL is a piece of lyrical art. So many subliminal messages and yet so clearly, SZA has painted a picture that all avid collectors would want for a lifetime. Or maybe that’s just me.
Nonetheless CTRL is worth a listen throughout. I highlighted the tracks that I felt were poignant but you may have your own favourites or be a fan of the whole project. Either way make sure you stream it down below or purchase a copy CTRL as soon as you can.
SZA CTRL is out now via Top Dawg Entertainment. Purchase it on iTunes here.
Words By Ada Boas