Album Review: SZA – SOS

With UK dates now announced for SZA's SOS Tour, we look back at Solána Rowe's groundbreaking second album

Long, streaming-friendly tracklistings aren’t exactly a rarity in R&B and hip hop, what with the rising (or returning) appeal of mixtapes. But SOS, the long-awaited follow-up to 2017’s landmark CTRL, feels considered and coherent in spite of both its 23-track length and its ventures into genres typically distant from R&B.

SZA - Good Days (Official Video)

From its title to the Princess Diana-inspired cover – and not forgetting Solána Rowe once studied marine biology – there’s clearly a nautical concept at play, which explained the staging at SZA’s Wireless performance last summer. But apart from the opening submarine beeps, thankfully the only continuation of this theme is its waviness; the hazy, gently psychedelic synths of CTRL return on the likes of ‘Kill Bill’, while the crisp drum would appeal equally to fans of either Tame Impala or J Dilla.

Rowe’s harder-hitting chops aren’t lost at sea, though. On ‘Low’ the deeper tones of her vocal range give the wobbly trap beat a hefty slap, while The College Dropout-esque ‘Smoking On My Ex Pack’ flexes her own flow.

SZA - Shirt (Official Video)

But though the aesthetic of her debut won SZA huge support far beyond the sphere of R&B, she goes a step or two further here. ‘Ghost in the Machine’ features a goosebump-raising cameo from the queen of sad indie, Phoebe Bridges, while the surprisingly distorted and angsty chorus on ‘F2F’ leans into the grunge-pop revival. There’s even something a little ‘No Surprises’ about the shimmering ‘Special’.

What keeps this all together is of course the irresistible blend of strength and floatiness of SZA’s vocals, which soar to their emotional peak on the penultimate ‘Good Days.’ There’s a lot to SOS, but returning five years on from her breakthrough with a record that casts an even wider net shows that SZA’s powerful appeal is still growing.

SZA has now announced UK dates for June 2023, stopping at Manchester and Glasgow before two back-to-back nights at London’s O2 Arena. Find tickets here