Amidst months of delays and excuses from Top Dawg’s top dogs, SZA’s debut studio album has finally reached our ears – it might not quite live up to the hype, but it’s still a solid full-length followup to her earlier mixtapes and EPs. CTRL is another great addition to TDE’s formidable roster, with flavours of synthy neo soul and misty alt R&B rather than the label’s typical freethinking hip hop. It might be one of the most straightforward projects that TDE’s put out, but SZA manages to be just as exciting as her labelmates.
CTRL might find itself weaving back and forth between dreamy acoustic driven tracks and those more electronic, synthpop laden sort of ones, but both are equally inviting in the context of this project. Tracks like the Pharell produced opener Supermodel and lead single Drew Barrymore evoke that lowkey soulfulness of Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE, while the more typical cuts like Broken Clocks or Garden succeed in being not just interesting, but more explorative and evocative than most of SZA’s R&B competitors.
SZA’s best moments are when she wears her daringness to be different on her sleeve, going beyond the everyday’s listeners expectations. Much like Miguel or The Weeknd, CTRL translates fresh ideas into pop appeal. Love Galore sees SZA and Travi$ Scott duet over sparse, yet smooth percussion and moody synthesisers – but it’s really the interplay between SZA’s soulful sway and Scott’s electronic choruses that make this track incredible. Or the short but sweet Wavy (Interlude), where SZA and James Fauntleroy combine forces for a seductive minute of modern soul.
While there are tracks like Prom and The Weekend that see SZA provide some of her most predictable songwriting and performances, there’s plenty of powerful tracks that drown out the filler too. Doves In The Wind is a gritty, gloomy, but somehow endlessly soulful cut, featuring labelmate Kendrick Lamar providing yet another quintessential verse for the TDE canon. And then there’s the two minute neo-soul odyssey Go (Gina), dreamy as it is catchy.
SZA’s CTRL might not live up to the reputation she’s garnered on projects like S and Z, but it’s a satisfying offering from someone who looks set to be contemporary R&B’s next big thing. It’s misty, often moody, but ultimately soulful. But was it worth the wait? For sure.