Review Summary: i feel like side-piece is an objectifying term and i reject its place in pop culture discourse. i also like the album
In my quest to breathe in as many different genres and musical styles as is humanly possible, I’ve become acutely aware of two things: Firstly, I have way too much time on my hands, and secondly, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If I didn’t wake up in the afternoon all the time and perpetually confuse weekdays with weekends, SZA’s Ctrl
would’ve remained one of those records that maybe I would’ve checked out eventually.
But I checked it out yesterday, and it rewarded my whimsical decision making with a collection of colourful, well-realised RnB-pop songs. Ctrl
is an album that oozes sexiness and struts with confidence, if only to spite the low-life dudes all over the world that refuse to take no for an answer. SZA, vitally, rides out this record on her own terms; asking the important questions until she gets the answers she deserves. In Drew Barrymore
, she asks: “Is it warm enough for ya inside me"”
before bending a series of apologies into passive-aggressive accusations like she’s found herself on the defensive. In a single hook, she confronts her own insecurities and accosts her subject’s imperfections; enacting catharsis over a warm, syrupy beat.
The main issue I may or may not have with Ctrl
(depending on how empathetic I feel) is that the album reads like a convoluted, drawn-out open letter to the same people, who might be of romantic interest, but mainly just exist as concepts for Solana to channel her insecurities through. She is probably justified - songwriters are at their most sincere, their most relatable even, when their insecurities are evident and their experiences are honest. But by the same token, it sometimes feels like the whole record is detailing the same relationship dynamics, just through different moods: sad, angry, penitent, amorous, et cetera, et cetera. During any particular listen, there is an equal chance of this theme feeling either belabored or liberating. Take your pick.
For the most part, though, this thing has me conflicted in a good way; in a way that only works because of its emotional depth and scrupulous consideration of detail. Ctrl
, at times, explores the emotional complexities of sex and competition and internal conflict from refreshing perspectives. Listen to Doves in the Wind
– it’s confident and not without a sense of humour, and when SZA wishes for her own Forrest Gump because he “never even pushed for the pussy”
it is both a funny and meaningful indictment of objectification and misogyny.
Yet, through all the snark and through all the embellished vocal performances (see: Anything
), the album remains true to itself. The same chord progression bookends the record, glassy and confrontational at first (Supermodel
), then pillowy and contemplative in reaction to the rest of the album (20 Something
). It positions Ctrl
as a kind of learning experience for Solana – a maturation that refuses to belie the quirks that made her interesting to begin with. There’s a very distinct personality here, deft with its melodies, vibrant in its presentation, and sensual in its demeanour.
So, let me get all middle-school-science-report for a minute:
In conclusion, Ctrl
is a Facebook-photo album of opinions and behaviours that probably shouldn’t be broadcasted online. It’s also an assembly of tracks that prevail as mantras of self-affirmation, and it balances the two sides of its character with an awareness that feels like an accident, though it's welcomed all the same. But even if we disregard what it all means
, these tracks are still jams, tunes, or any other blasé term people attach to music that you can throw away your dignity to. Ctrl
is no place for such decorum.