Album Review: “SOS” by SZA


Daniel Sannwald

The “SOS” album cover depicts SZA on the edge of a diving board looking out at the sea. The photo was inspired by a similar one taken of the late Princess Diana.

Brooklyn Sauer, Design Editor

Comin’ back, she so candid. 

Singer-songwriter SZA has released her long-anticipated sophomore album, entitled “SOS”, to smashing success.

“SOS” had a difficult development, with fans being led on for years as to when the next album was released. Once it was released, however, there were many songs in the 23-song tracklist that were immediate hits. And even though there is always room to improve, the album was an amazing artistic and commercial success with more to look forward to in the future.

SZA hit the ground running in the music scene, with her debut album “Ctrl” – released in June 2017 – receiving critical acclaim and debuting at number three on the U.S. Billboard 200. After the album’s release, her feature on the “Black Panther” (2018) soundtrack with “All the Stars” featuring Kendrick Lamar shot her even further into her rapidly growing stardom. 

For the next five years, fans of SZA were given a variety of features and even a few singles – “Good Days”, “I Hate U”, and “Shirt”, which were all included on the new album – but yet, no album release. To make it worse, there were constant teasers being released by SZA and her team via social media of songs that fans were desperate to have on their own playlists.

Despite the lack of a big release, SZA still held public interest for her over five-year gap in album releases. After dropping a deluxe version of Ctrl on the five-year anniversary of the original album release and the long-anticipated single “Shirt” later in October, SZA finally announced the release of her sophomore album by posting the album cover to her Twitter account on Nov. 30, later revealing the release date to be Dec. 9 accompanying a teaser for a song from the album, “Blind”. This was despite many setbacks in the album production and a push by producers to wait to release until the new year, SZA revealed later.

In the early morning of Dec. 9, fans were finally able to hear an hour and eight minutes worth of new content from the artist. With 23 songs to sink our teeth into, here are some personal highlights.

In the opening and title track for the album, “SOS” beings with the morse code distress signal corresponding to the title of the song, before sprinting out of the gate with the sound of a flare being shot off, a gospel sample, and the first lyrics of the album “Give me a second, give me a minute”, demanding audience attention. She then begins rattling off lyrics about a variety of topics that she expands upon further in the album, a trait of an amazing opening track. To name a few, SZA talks about being irreplaceable by other women, being done with the way other people treat her, and, as noted by many upon first listen, confirming the rumors that she had received plastic surgery. The track is a textbook example of how to open an album, setting the tone for the even more amazing album to come. 

Immediately following that comes to the billboard hit “Kill Bill,” referencing the 2003 blockbuster of the same name. The song’s lyrics tell the story of SZA fantasizing about and eventually killing her ex-partner and his new girlfriend. The song was a hit on TikTok and on the charts, managing to stay in the top 10 despite the holiday rush and getting the artist her first number one on the US Streaming Songs chart. There’s no denying that the song is incredibly catchy, and is deserving of its critical acclaim and music video.

Skipping ahead a few songs, we get “Blind,” by far the best song on the album. Used as the teaser for the album release, the track is simple and orchestral, completely dropping the R&B influences present on the previous tracks. This fits the themes of the song, where SZA sings about being blind to the things that are right in front of her, such as looking for love in ex-partners being caused by her lack of self-love. The artist’s vocals are also put on full display on this track, leading to a beautiful and angelic song that is certainly a standout.

Track ten “Gone Girl” is another song title referencing pop culture, in this case, the 2012 book turned movie. The song begins with more of those angelic vocals calls the audience’s attention immediately, and the more standard, slow beats beginning at the chorus make a relaxed and super catchy song. The track title seems to have been chosen as a way to convey themes of love, loss, and abandonment, themes present in the story as well.

Next up is the amazing three track run “Ghost in the Machine” (featuring Phoebe Bridgers), “F2F” and “Nobody Gets Me”. Hearing Bridgers and SZA on a track together is like a dream come true, and despite their seemingly polar opposite styles, they meld well together on this track about the music industry. Following this up is the upbeat pop punk “F2F”, which SZA wrote with a friend and fellow musician Lizzo. The song is just a fun time and acts as a great way to break up the long tracklist. And finally, “Nobody Gets Me” slows the tempo down again with a country-inspired ballad that lends itself to singing at the top of your lungs in the car. 

Going slightly out of order, all three of the singles for “SOS” are placed in the closing part of the album. “Good Days” was the first of the three, released on Christmas 2020, and the soft, aesthetic sound has yet to lose its catchiness. A little less than a year later, “I Hate U” debuted with a message about being pubically ridiculed on the internet, however, it still had elements of the understated sound of the previous single. October 2022 saw the release of the long-anticipated “Shirt,” two years after the original teaser was released on Instagram. Overall, all three singles do a great job of teasing the sounds present on the full album.

To round out the album, “Forgiveless” features song snippets from the late rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard and even unreleased bars from an upcoming documentary on the artist. With all of the rap and R&B influences throughout SZA’s discography, this homage feels like it was the only way to end an already incredible album.

While not as sonically cohesive as her previous album, “SOS” is still an incredible collection of work that shows audiences that SZA isn’t a one-trick pony. While “Ctrl” was a very controlled experience, “SOS” feels more like the artist exploring every part of music that sounds interesting and seeing where that takes her. It is going to be very interesting to see her next project and if she can meld these two great sides to create an even better whole.

Outside of the standard album, SZA has already released another highly anticipated song, “PSA,” available by purchasing the digital album. She also already has plans to release a deluxe album, including songs called “Potting Season,” “Boy from South Detroit,” “Joni,” “Guard Down,” and many other unnamed scrapped songs. Fans won’t be left without entertainment for too long, though, as SZA’s North American tour begins later this month.