SZA – Ctrl review

Solá­na Rowe, bet­ter known as SZA, has been feel­ing irri­tat­ed, neu­rot­ic and emo­tion­al – and she’s here to tell you that. Because, as the 26-year-old singer said in a recent inter­view on Beats 1, “either you f*ck with me or don’t after this”. If you’ve sam­pled any of her music, from her ear­ly EPs to her guest spots with Kendrick Lamar, School­boy Q or Rihan­na, it’s hard to imag­ine feel­ing any­thing but ado­ra­tion for her long-await­ed debut, Ctrl.

SZA pulls no punch­es here. The­mat­i­cal­ly, there has always been a sort of trou­bled inno­cence to her music, which is pret­ty appar­ent in a song such as ‘Child’s Play’. But also an unapolo­getic desire to express her frus­tra­tions with men, and patri­archy (‘The Odyssey’). Ctrl con­tin­ues these themes, and goes even fur­ther in its frankness.

Many of the songs here will become fast favourites, because SZA’s hooks pro­voke a pri­mal response with their hon­esty, which is some­times cheeky (‘Love Galore’), some­times sober­ing (‘Super­mod­el’). ‘Gar­den (Say It Like Dat)’, the con­fes­sion­al antithe­sis to the booty­li­cious teach­ings of Destiny’s Child, is about her fear of los­ing a lover because she has “no booty”. Over a springy and pecu­liar loop, and with her gor­geous, faint­ly smoky voice, akin to Kehlani or Rihan­na, SZA talks com­pan­ion­ship and self-worth on ‘Drew Bar­ry­more’. And on the flat-out flaw­less ‘Nor­mal Girl’ with its dreamy loop that was made for a pris­tine Cal­i­forn­ian dream, she deliv­ers a mag­net performance.

Through­out Ctrl, SZA words are com­ple­ment­ed by a melod­ic and hyp­not­ic array of pro­duc­tions, akin to Por­tishead and The Inter­net, man­ly by Top Dawg’s in-house beat­mak­ers. Sure, she says she’s “shy”, but give her a lush beat and a mic, and SZA slays. Steamy slow jam ‘The Week­end’ is SZA solid­i­fy­ing her place along­side Janet Jack­son and Jhené Aiko on love­mak­ing playlists the world over. She shorts the breeze to talk “pieces and pages” on ‘Bro­ken Clocks’ – which fits into the same all-work-no-play vibe as Frank Ocean’s ‘Nights’. And she main­tains her flair for get­ting you pop­pin’ and wavy, too.

After a three-year wait and con­tro­ver­sial claims she’d quit her label, it was inevitable that some would start to ques­tion whether SZA would ever man­age to deliv­er a debut wor­thy of her poten­tial. Well, from top to bot­tom, Ctrl is an absolute delight. This is SZA at her most vul­ner­a­ble, but also her most allur­ing: it feels like an open and explic­it ther­a­py ses­sion, sound­tracked by vivid neo-soul and wavy R&B. Flaunt­ing tune after tune after tune, SZA’s debut is a new clas­sic we’ll be talk­ing about for years to come.


Ctrl is out now on Top Dawg/RCA Records. You can pur­chase the album on Apple Music, Google Play, Ama­zon.

If you like this artist, check out: Abra; Jhené Aiko

Image: cour­tesy of SZA/RCA Records