When it comes to Larsson's global debut, we've already heard every bit worth listening to.
It may not feel like it, but Zara Larsson’s been tearing up the charts for nearly two years now. Since she first embraced the non-Scandinavian scene in September 2015, singles and collaborations have been coming in thick and fast, though an album to follow 2814’s 1 has taken long enough to appear. Before we get started on So Good, let me refresh you on her most notable bangers:
- ‘Never Forget You,’ her sparkling collaboration with MNEK, was the first to break ground in the UK. It’s an anthemic and soaring love song with a spiky electropop edge.
- ‘Lush Life,’ her first big solo release, arrived at the start of 2016 after a wealth of success across the continent and you may well remember it from near enough every radio station ever since. It’s a pop lover’s dream, with dizzying melody matched only by Larsson’s incredible vocals.
- ‘Girls Like,’ the eventual lead single of Tinie Tempah’s still-delayed Youth, was a bouncy and infectious record that knocked ‘Lush Life’ from the top 5 in last May.
- ‘This One’s For You,’ David Guetta’s official song for the UEFA Euro 2016 football tournament, was a fiery dance record with samples of cheering stadium crowds.
- ‘Ain’t My Fault,’ a hard-edged, two-fingered “fuck you” banger carried more swagger than Mick Jagger. (Apologies, but – just like Cher Lloyd – I couldn’t resist the rhyme.)
- ‘I Would Like,’ a zinging electronic tune, is “suitable both for both cheesy club floors and for running around your bedroom with your pants on your head.” (Yes, apparently I did once write those words.)
- ‘So Good,’ the album’s titular single, came earlier this year as a tease for the imminent release. With Ty Dolla $ign on board for some “dope D,” it’s more urban than what came before, but is just about as seductive as its creator.
Whilst Larsson’s run of singles is admirable, it has made the wait for So Good all the more agonising. Moreover, five of these singles have eventually come to feature on the 15-track-long album, so that’s a third of the album we’ve already heard. On first listen, it can be quite nice to revisit these pop anthems, however they are quickly skippable on return listens.
As for what’s left? So Good is, largely, a menagerie of underwhelming songs. Perhaps I’m a little hypercritical, but none of the remaining tracks have the edge of what has come before, despite a few smaller gems. To note the positives first: the softer ‘TG4M’ is a welcome contrast to some of her louder, unabashed pop, with a contained, pleasant beat that compliments alluring vocals; ‘One Mississippi’ is even slower and smoother, yet remains big in sound with a soaring electropop composition; Ed Sheeran has a writing credit on ‘Don’t Let Me Be Yours,’ which is definitely one of the stronger tracks, but still fails to dazzle like much of Sheeran’s recent Divide; ‘Sundown’ is probably the natural choice to be Larsson’s next single, with WizKid giving enough kick to make it chart-worthy, however it is sub-par compared to what proceeds it.
Now, for the troubles. On the Beyoncé-esque ‘Make That Money,’ her feminist message is lost in painful vocal augmentation, while ‘Only You’ lacks any punch to its beat – an area Larsson usually shines in. Both ‘Funeral’ and ‘I Can’t Fall In Love Without You’ are run-of-the-mill slow songs on which Larsson’s vocals feel wasted. ‘Symphony,’ a collaboration with Clean Bandit that acts as both artists’ new singles, feels oddly placed as the conclusion of the record. Within, Larsson’s vocals shine, but the composition fails to rise (quite literally) to expectations.
Larsson’s brazen confidence is evident across most tracks to the point that it becomes a little irritating. “’cause I can’t love nobody like I love myself / Like I love myself,” she moans in ‘Only You’ like we’re supposed to feel sorry for her. Despite sharing its name with the latest single, Larsson recently claimed the album was named such quite simply “because the album is so good.” It’s positive to see female singers encouraging self-love, particularly when one of their core demographics is that of teenage girls, but with the music scene already at breaking point with colossal egos, her swagger quickly gets tiresome. I’d happily crown Larsson as a new queen of pop, but I’d rather she didn’t snatch the crown out of my hands as if she’d owned it all along.
So Good is out now via Epic and Black Butter