SZA: SOS review – a surfeit of ideas, guests and producers from a master of her craft

Five years is an eternity in music. Ctrl, the much-loved 2017 debut of SZA – New Jersey singer-songwriter Solána Rowe – was an alt-R&B tour de force whose characterful immediacy played extremely well with both the mainstream and points leftfield. Delays – pandemics, SZA’s frequent guest spots, label shenanigans – have repeatedly stalled the release of its sequel.

Clocking in at 23 tracks, SOS might well register as a distress signal, with SZA searching for a through line connecting her album’s multiple producers, its grab bag of genres and disparate featured guests. Two years ago she threatened to do “a dump” of unreleased tracks; although SOS is not that, it treads a fine line between swashbuckling versatility and a lack of cohesion.

Versatility largely wins out. Only SZA could find room for Travis Scott on a slow jam ballad, Open Arms, as well as Phoebe Bridgers (Ghost in the Machine), the grunge-pop of F2F and a self-explanatory strummed track, Nobody Gets Me. Better sequencing might have smoothed the bumps. Throughout, though, SZA is instantly recognisable, both as a vocalist and as a writer: a girl next door confessing to getting spots on Special; a master of her craft on instant bangers such as the recent Shirt.