SZA has returned with her highly anticipated sophomore album SOS, the follow-up to her seminal 2017 debut album Ctrl. Across the sprawling 23-track collection the St. Louis singer/songwriter continues her inward struggle to put her own happiness first while navigating the friction with the world and people around her. But unlike her first album, SZA arrives far more confident in her spirit, her passion, and her capacity to survive without sinking to other people’s levels of petty (or at least trying to). After all, what makes her razor-sharp lyricism so compelling is its ability to translate all the raw and unfiltered emotions we sometimes prefer to keep pent up inside into brute truths.

On the title track and album opener “SOS,” over a sample of the ecstatic sampling of “Until I Found the Lord (My Soul Couldn’t Rest)” sung by the Gabriel Hardeman Delegation, SZA lays down the law of her return. Done taking people’s shit she takes aim at past lovers (even while lamenting her need to still pine over them) on suavely sarcastic tracks like “Kill Bill” and “Smoking on my Ex Pack.”

But there’s a line however fine between desire and need — and throughout the conflicting emotions that collide across SOS, there’s also a strong sense of finality to SZA’s diary-like musings. On the sobering “Blind,” she raps over a dreamy acoustic melody about how she’s disappointed in herself at being blind to the love inside her ready to be enjoyed and given. While on the bass-thrumming “Used” she teams up with Don Tolliver as they dig into the ways being used makes an island of your mind and soul.

Yet it’s clear that if there’s going to be anyone who answers her titular SOS — it’s going to be herself. Much of the album is devoted to soulful mantras dedicated to not just feeding hidden love within herself as it is being assured in the love she wants to receive from other people. Whether that’s forcing the issue to get someone to reveal their “Love Language” or penning an eviscerating acoustic reminder of the ways past lovers have left her feeling so devastatingly ordinary on “Special.”

Incisive and voraciously intimate songwriting is a staple of SZA’s artistry — as is her ability to effortlessly embody the spirit of any genre she decides to toy with. From the spacey atmospheric electronics of “Ghost in the Machine” — a hauntingly resounding track to which Phoebe Bridgers lends her ghostly cries — to the grinding riffs that thunder across angsty rocker “F2F.” Other album standouts include the radiantly melodic “Good Days” and “Foregiveless,” a track that samples both Ol’ Diry Bastard and Björk in a way that only SZA could — contorting the static-laden beats and ethereal vocalizations into a triumphant outro.

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Words by Steven Ward

Listen to SOS the new album from SZA below!