Zara Larsson’s ‘So Good’: Album Review
Zara Larsson’s So Good doesn’t live up to its title. Instead, it’s a snapshot of an extremely promising artist in the midst of an identity crisis. The Swede looks and sounds like a star, but the unnecessarily eclectic material lets her down. It’s telling that the best songs on the album are essentially features. She’s a chameleon when it comes to embodying someone else’s sound, but she seems lost when it comes to her own — hopping aimlessly between UK club beats, piano ballads and, most uncomfortably, Rihanna-lite dancehall bops.
Let’s start with the highlights because there are at least four great reasons to own this album. “Lush Life” stands out as one of the most glorious pure-pop songs in recent memory. The euphoric, sing-along anthem should be the template for Zara. It’s bright, colorful and lyrically authentic to a 19-year-old. Amazingly, it still sounds fresh despite being two years old. MNEK collaboration, “Never Forget You,” is similarly impressive. The song proves that the pop star is capable of owning edgier club sounds when she’s pared with the right producer.
Another perfect example of that is her appearance on Clean Bandit’s “Symphony,” which was wisely included on the LP. An avalanche of mellifluous club beats and orchestral instruments, dance-pop does’t get any more grandiose than this Song Of The Summer contender. It’s such a great sound for Zara. The same goes for The Monsters And The Strangerz-produced bop, “I Would Like.” (Otherwise known as the little buzz track that could). The song exploded internationally on the back of sassy lyrics and ’90s house beats. In fact, it’s so catchy that Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull recycled it on Climate Change banger, “Sexy Body.” Talk about an honor!
While those songs set the standard, there are some other bright spots on the album. Zara reunites with MNEK (in producer mode) on album opener “What They Say.” It begins with a ballad intro and expresses a sweet sentiment. “Whatever you do just don’t believe what they say, ’cause they don’t believe in you like I believe in you anyway,” she sings on the understated electro ballad. It’s not an obvious single, but it set the mood nicely. The title track is similarly inoffensive. “So Good” is still an exceedingly pleasant way to spend two and a half minutes.
Other tracks that leave a good impression include the Wizkid-assisted “Sundown” — a cute little bop that coasts along on a wicked dancehall beat courtesy of Stargate. The track wouldn’t sound out of place on RiRi’s A Girl Like Me album, which was probably intentional in that way that “Ain’t My Fault” was crafted to sound like a Loud bonus track. More compelling is “One Mississippi,” an emotional ballad about a doomed romance. This cut, perhaps more than any other, captures the quality and versatility of Zara’s voice.
Things get a little patchy from here. “Funeral” has a dramatic title and winning house keys, but an unnecessary dub-step breakdown ruins the song for me. It has so much potential, but the hodgepodge of dance sub-genres simply doesn’t work. “TG4M” shows a softer side of the pop star, but it’s lacking a memorable hook. The same goes for simple piano ballad, “I Can’t Fall In Love Without You.” It’s cute enough, but goes in one ear and out the other. If nothing else, it offers a much-needed change of pace.
That takes us to a trio of complete misfires. “Only You” is the worst song on the album. “I don’t wanna shower even if I stink,” Zara coos in the intro. “Cause I don’t wanna wash you off, wash you off my skin.” I’ll pass. “Don’t Let Me Be Yours” starts promisingly enough (I love the guitar), but the drop is a hot mess. The same goes for “Make That Money Girl,” which sounds like it written by a gaggle of Twitter stans. How did any of these songs make the cut while the glorious “Permission” is trapped on someone’s laptop? Zara hasn’t realized her full potential yet, but time is on her side.