By Will Sexton (@willshesleeps)
Love fuelled, compassionate and confident. Raw, intimate and erotic. SZA’s new album Ctrl contains all of the above, and it’s one hell of a listen.
Ctrl is the first piece of music many will have heard from SZA, considering it’s her debut, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. The album starts off with the very mellow, slow paced ballad Supermodel: right from the start, you’ll get a taste of one of the best things about the album which is the instrumentation. More than half of Supermodel contains no drums and is mainly heavily edited electric guitar and a small taste of bass guitar. SZA singing over the top about an ex-boyfriend who did her wrong and sings about insecurities in herself and admits to sleeping with his best friend because he “purposely broke up with her on Valentines day”.
The songs to follow continue with this indulgent and almost therapeutic nature where SZA is singing about past lovers and people who have done her wrong. The next song Love Galore feat. Travis Scott is an empowering song where the lyrics are about putting yourself first and “all you need is love” which can be interpreted as all types of love, not just relationships or sex but then also talks about how she is the side-chick on a lot of the songs in the first half of the album. Ctrl has two ends of the emotional spectrum, a lush and intense sexual side to it but can also be at times sad and emotional.
One of the highlight tracks has to be Doves In the Wind feat. Kendrick Lamar which is a song “entirely dedicated to vaginas” (the word pussy is said 28 times) and how there is so much more to a relationship and/or life than sex. A lot of the singing from SZA on this song has a nice flow and an interesting melody and again the instrumentation on this song is gorgeous.
An interesting use of distortion and noise would be on the song Anything where the song starts with a sharp distorted punch and continues throughout the song and it shows that SZA had a confidence with trying new things and using fun new techniques, and even down to how the claps/stamps are mixed at the end make this album an interesting listen.
Three other songs worth shouting out includes The Weekend due to the synth opening and alluring nature, the song Prom with its dreamy mixing as well as its angelic vocals and the rather minimalist Wavy (Interlude) feat. Jame Fauntleroy showing that you don’t need layers to show off SZA’s gorgeous voice.
However, CTRL’s absolute gem is Drew Barrymore. With guitar similar to the opening track and a chilled out and sombre vibe, SZA sings about low self-esteem and the expectations that are placed on her as a woman. She feels the need to have to apologise for “not being attractive enough, for not shaving her legs at night and being too clingy”. She also questions whether the person loves her or loves sleeping with her and asks then whether she is “warm enough on the outside” for them, referring to appearance and also “warm enough on the inside” being a sexual innuendo. Being able to address all of this in one song effortlessly is why it’s my favourite. It’s an anthem for the self-conscious.
One of the best RnB albums of the year so far, CTRL really throws SZA’s name into the stratosphere. Some songs may not gel with you right away but there are plenty of standout tracks that appear on this LP which will redeem that. If SZA wasn’t on your radar before now then she sure as hell is now.