Just because you are open, frank and revealing, doesn’t mean you are vulnerable.
Just because you are vulnerable doesn’t mean you are weak.
Just because you are weak, doesn’t mean you are always going to be.
Just because you are not consistent doesn’t mean you can’t have, or seek, control
On Ctrl, SZA – Solana Rowe when she was growing up in New Jersey – approaches control from multiple angles, though with a singular perspective. She’s not pretending to be omniscient; her mistakes are there to be seen, her uncertainty voiced clearly.
But she’s not pretending to be above it all either. The album begins with the voice of her mother saying “That is my greatest fear, that if I lost control or didn’t have control, things would be fatal.” And it’s a point well understood.
In the opening song, Supermodel (which like the closing song 20 Something presents SZA with little in the way of embellishment and in what will become the album’s signature slow groove), she places herself as the woman cast aside but not yet ready to let go. “Wish I was comfortable just with myself/I need you.”
But throughout the album she’ll easily diss an underpowered lover, question an overcommitted lover, offer warmth and comfort, stand apart from need, give in to need, wonder what it is to be a normal girl (while accepting she isn’t), credit a lover for “calling me on my bullshit”, and even have Kendrick Lamar concede the power of a woman in relation to men who mistake their bluff for their strength.
And she’ll do with soul that changes shape regularly, from old school to a very British-influenced modern edge, but remains at its core languidly rhythmic and sensuous to the touch.
It is these pliant grooves and a delivery that matches it in flowing feel, which confirm what we can hear in her words: that while Lamar is both backer (she’s on his label) and contributor, her musical and emotional connection is more with Frank Ocean.
Like Ocean, SZA gives to get, opening up so that we want to be wrapped in the musical and personal environment created. This is a gorgeous experience sonically and a welcoming one intellectually, a complete package really.
What is the point of and in Ctrl? If it hasn’t already become clear by album’s end then Rowe’s mother again, sampled after the finish of that last song, 20 Something, has an answer.
“And if it’s an illusion, I won’t want to wake up; I’m going to hang onto it. Because the alternative is an abyss, is just a hole, darkness, nothing. And what’s that?,” She says. “So that’s what I think about control. And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”