SZA has finally blessed the world with her long-awaited debut label release, ‘CTRL’. With the release of her mixtapes in 2012 and 2014, which occupied realms of wistful, gauzy atmospherics, and loosely-formed ideas on identity, there was a justified buzz around her, and her skill as a purveyor of multi-hyphenate music, even if there was a nagging sense of disinclination. Her potential latent, if not wholly realised.
Her time away has resulted in a full-length well worth the wait, SZA collating her patchwork influences into fourteen streamlined tracks best experienced as a whole. She plays the residual cheater (casually sharing a lover on the ‘90s dreamy escapade ‘The Weekend’), the confidante, the pin-up, the influencer and the sister — sometimes all on one track.
Yet it’s the scorned SZA that is her strongest guise; her brand of heartbreak distinctly modern, evading doe-eyed despair in favour of brazen clap backs — for what ‘CTRL’ isn’t, is a pity party. On opener ‘Supermodel’, SZA’s ego is bruised, berating her ex’s new woman, her once judiciously curated look book, now a stark confessional. On the Travis Scott-assisted ‘Love Galore’ (a mournful anthem for ambivalent lovers), her cadence is ripe with hurt and reproach. As the song comes to an end, there isn’t a resolution in sight.
The beauty lies in the moments she admonishes her agency, her thoughts in a constant state of flux — a twenty-something in transition. SZA’s not emotionally infallible, and yet she celebrates the grey areas with an abandon that artists ten years in the game can’t quite seem to grasp. ‘Drew Barrymore’, as close to pop as anything SZA has released thus far, is a pick-me-up, guitar-tinged anthem, for those needing affirmation and a boost post-break up. Additionally, amidst all the sexual bravado displayed on ‘Normal Girl’, her desire to be just that is plain and clear, a yearning to ‘the one’ especially potent in a ‘new world’ of instant gratification, lines being blurred to the point of comprehension.
On ‘CTRL’, SZA is a fully-fledged artiste with things to say and people to say it to, no longer hiding behind the reverb. Even as ‘CTRL’ explores dreamy soundscapes, her voice is foregrounded in all its grainy quality, unaffected and real. Celebrating womanhood in all its complexity, a record of unadorned, bare-boned vulnerability, SZA’s multi-perspective lyricism gives the modern woman richness and grit. Featuring savage and often heartfelt, diary-like ruminations, ‘CTRL’ pushes against the borders of convention lyrically and sonically, placing it on the upper echelons of potential ‘Best Of ’17’ lists.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain
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