If SZA’s gonna consistently put out classics, I’m fine waiting five years between releases, and I’m happy with them including 23 tracks.
SZA’s stardom in 2022 is so much bigger than it was back in 2017, when she was about to release Ctrl, so it makes sense SOS would be a little more pop-forward and not as raw or intimate. But that does not at all take away from the music, her soothing and emotional voice, her clever lyrics or the fabulous production she works around. And a popular R&B singer not making a record that leans towards producing a few dance hits nowadays is pretty refreshing.
For a record this long, it really does move and keep your interest by changing tones and doing more than just her dreamy, on my own at nighttime-vibed songs we love over and over again. The instantly catchy “Kill Bill” and “Blind” do that really well, while dark, heavier songs like “Low” and “Shirt,” as well as “Used,” “Smoking on my Ex Pack” and “Forgiveness” bring some classic hip-hop beats to the mix. I don’t know where she found that unused Ol’ Dirty Bastard sample but it works. She also includes some summer poolside or beach songs, “Notice Me,” “Conceited,” “Too Late” that widen her range. It’s a testament to how talented and adaptable SZA is that she can produce an R&B record that sounds 100 percent authentic, stays true to traditional Hip-hop/R&B but also can appeal to a mass audience that might not always like slower, softer songs like this on the regular.
My criticisms are slim and pretty nitpicky, and come with a handful of compliments too. The guitar driven acoustic or power-pop tracks near the middle of the record feel a little random. “Ghost In the Machine” probably works best, “Nobody Gets Me” and “Special” are fine songs, but “F2F” isn’t my cup of tea. They serve as a nice change of pace on what is a long album, but there are so many pop and indie artists making sad guitar tracks or pop rock that I didn’t really need that from SZA too, especially when she’s sooo good at the more classic hip-hop based R&B.
Another critique is that I don’t know if I needed her singles from the past two years — as good as they all are — to be added to the album, especially just kind of tacked on near the very end. “Good Days” is probably my favorite SZA song, but it had been out for two years when the album dropped and already had north of 600 million plays online. Undeniably a great, huge hit, as was “I Hate You” and even “Shirt,” but they existed out in the world and were entities on their own. When you’ve got 23 songs to get through and an hour plus of new music already, it could have been streamlined a bit, or at least integrated a bit more into the track list.
SOS being released just a few weeks before the end of the year, I might be overhyping it a little with my ratings as I try to finalize my list of Best 2022 Albums. Overall though, it’s a great, enjoyable record from the very first listed that continues to grow even more as you get familiar with it, and I keep going through it and back to it over and over again.