Review: SZA Second Album

SZA dropped her long-awaited sophomore album SOS on Dec. 9 and it did not disappoint. When I say long-awaited, I mean that there are singles for this album that came out over a year ago. Following the popular R&B/Pop record Ctrl, The album continued with the theme of heartbreak and grief. 

Production leads by the likes of Jay Versace, thankgod4cody, Carter Lang, and Rob Bisel is not a change from the last time we heard from SZA. They didn’t disappoint, keeping their beats interesting, but mellow, throughout the whole album, which is a very impressive feat considering that there are a whopping 22 tracks on the album with only two of them being under 2 minutes.

Smoking On My Ex Pack is a short, but entertaining track on the record. It doesn’t really fit the vibe of the album but it’s a fun little track and SZA rapping about how she feels about the men she dated previously over some chopped chipmunk soul production is never going to miss. It’s kind of a shame that this track is under a minute and a half long considering it’s definitely one of the more explosive tracks on the album, if not the most. “You hating from the nosebleeds, I wish you well,” is also an all-timer lyric.

Outside of that song, this is a really cohesive and well-put-together record. All the songs have different feelings and sounds, but they all come together for the same central idea. Really good execution by SZA. The album is only hard to process because of how much raw material is there and it definitely requires 2-3 listens to take it all in. Even more impressively SOS isn’t all that poppy or snappy which makes it enjoyable throughout the whole thing.

Kill Bill is definitely one of the top tracks of this project. The production almost steals the show from SZA with its warm bass, crisp drums, and ear-catching guitar. SZA stills make herself heard, with the catchy chorus and ability to sing with the flow of the instrumentals. Most impressively was the bridge of this song where SZA really shows off her vocal talents, especially with the delivery of “I did it all for us”.

Gone Girl is a calmer, coming-of-age type of song. SZA sings over some electric piano and some strong bass parts to go along with it. This is one of the more average tracks on the record, but it’s still enjoyable just due to SZA’s voice, and the message that she feels free now that she’s left her ex.

Low is just a banger through and through. The murky trap beat and thick 808 usages are perfect and it is definitely one of the better-produced songs on the album. SZA does a great job rapping over this beat considering she’s not a rapper. No real stand-out vocals here. Travis Scott’s ad-libs are always nice though.

F2F is another banger that comes to mind, but not in the same way. SZA’s first attempt at a pop-punk song isn’t the greatest record on the track, but it definitely isn’t the worst. Not much to offer here production-wise, but excellent vocal work by SZA. I felt like I could hear the emotion in the chorus and she was really singing her heart out. Really this song just shows the versatility of the record.

The tracks that I’ve mentioned so far are really the outliers in this album. A lot of these tracks follow the idea of space and freedom. The rest of the album really matches the feeling of its cover. A lot of the instrumentals in these songs almost feel like they’ve been scaled down so that SZA can be in her own space with more emphasis on her vocals singing her thoughts and ideas. This kind of mellow approach on this long of the record is a risky choice and one that I haven’t seen executed successfully until this one.

The song Notice Me is a perfect example of a song with mellow instrumentation, but SZA carries the bare track with her voice. This could have been paired with some poppy, Doja Cat-type beat and it would have sounded just fine, but it’s scaled down so that SZA takes more of the spotlight. 

This is not an insult towards the production of any of the tracks of course. They do exactly what they’re supposed to do. They are interesting, unique beats that lend more to SZA than they do to themselves. This constant meekness of the instrumentation of the album amplifies SZAs feeling because her voice and tone are the main focus. 

The song I Hate U is an example where the quiet beat strengthens the showcasing of SZAs emotions. The lazy synth lines are just the right amount of pop so that the track isn’t boring, but SZA can still show how she really feels and show off her vocals. This sets up an interesting story about hating someone but still missing them.

Open Arms is maybe the saddest song on this track because of how much SZA is blaming and hating herself for the whole situation. She really tears herself down and says she’ll be waiting for her ex-lover with “open arms”. She is willing to take this person back despite all he’s taken her through because that’s what she believes she’s worth. If this track had had a loud, show-stealing instrumentation then we wouldn’t get the full effect of SZAs voice and feelings. Travis Scott also drops a nice feature on this song.

Thankfully in the end, SZA gives us a confident, attitude-filled, track with Forgiveless. What really tops this record off is the Ol’ Dirty Bastard feature in this song. I like this choice because ODB is a confident, big personality and SZA is really searching for that confidence. 

This is a project where everyone had the same goal in mind and everyone executed their jobs perfectly. This sounds like it was exactly what SZA wanted in her new album and she really used all 5 of those years to make what she feels like is a perfect record. Not many complaints about this album other than the product can be a bit too weak at times for a project this long. Overall SZA and her crew killed it, one of the best records I’ve heard this year. This album is deserving of a 9 out of 10.