Overall: The themes are promising and the music's okay, but the lyrical execution is shoddy
In early June, I kept seeing social media posts about a singer/songwriter named Sza. I believe her name is pronounced like "Sizz-Uh." *Mariah Got to Be Real voice* "Don't ask me their name; it started with a T," haha. I thought to myself "Harpo, who dis woman? Where did she come from? What is all this fuss about?" So, I did a little investigating, and here I am, doing an album review. 26-year-old Sza (born
Solána Imani Rowe) released 2 digital mix-tapes before signing a recording contract with RCA. CTRL is her first LP on the label. As many know, "CTRL" is the computer keyboard acronym for "control." When Janet Jackson did a concept album on this topic, it was about possessing control. Sza's record is about how she can't even catch a glimpse of it, much less attain it. She rues being one of those textbook "20 Somethings," whose paralyzing insecurity leads to a slew of exacerbating bad decisions, like picking jerks for romantic partners. She explains how being mistreated, neglected and cheated on by said jerks strengthens her neediness (ex. "Supermodel") and inferiority complex (ex. "Drew Barrymore"). Desperate for any type of attention or "love," she continues to tolerate objectionable behaviors, including being a "side-chick" ("The Weekend"). Sounds really rich in theme, right? As the saying goes, "Nothing is what it seems."
Some songwriters purposely structure their lyrics in an abstract or unusual way, or use several metaphors and analogies in one song. This is particularly true in hip-hop. If one is skilled in the technique, it can bolster the efficacy of the message. Sza's application of the technique isn't yet refined. Therefore, most of her lyrics seem like a nebulous mess of assorted parts. It's as if she just started writing whatever came to her mind, regardless of whether or not it was consistent, cohesive or flowing. The lyrics don't even come off as esoteric. She also employs spoken "interview" interludes (which are high-in-fashion in R&B and hip-hop right now), but they lack profundity and fall flat.
Like Miley Cyrus, Shakira or Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child, Sza's vocals are unique, quirky and what I often describe as "an acquired taste." You either can tolerate what you hear or you can't. In this case, her voice doesn't bother me.
CTRL is musically very relaxed, but the tracks will still get stuck in your head. Slabs of R&B (ex. "Go Gina") and hip-hop (ex. "Doves in the Wind") are tangled in cheerless acoustic guitars and other rock slices. "Prom" has the most gummy pop flair, with an 80's touch. Flashes of early Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and the film 13 Going on 30 went before me the moment I heard it. Producers Carter Lang and The Antydote, of the independent label Top Dawg Entertainment, have majority of the credits.
In completing my investigation, I've concluded that Sza has potential, but I'm still not sure what all the fuss is about. I appreciate her candor and rock infusions, but CTRL wasn't the audio orgasm or imprinting record it's propped up to be. It's content delivery is not that sophisticated.