Album Review: Summer Walker, ‘Still Over It’

From the modern classic “Session 32” and her murky Last Day of Summer mixtape, Summer Walker had already figured out her lane. She exists at the intersection of late 2010s vibe&B, the storied legacy of hip-hop-soul, and a sprinkle of hope that prevents the music from being too destitute. Summer wears the influences of Mary J. Blige, Brandy, and Keyshia Cole on her sleeve, and Over It marked her arrival as one of the premiere R&B stars of her generation and her viability as a pop star. “Playing Games” and “Come Thru” relied on samples of 90s classics, but “Body” and “Potential” proved that she was equally capable of making hits without samples. If Over It was Summer’s star-making moment, then Still Over It is her star-solidifying moment. A revelatory confessional set to melancholic guitars and somber 808s, Still Over It is both a showcase of resilience and an acknowledgment of the inherent imperfections of the pursuit of love. Featuring appearances by Cardi B, Ciara, Ari Lennox, Omarion, City Girls, SZA, Lil Durk, and Pharrell Williams, Still Over It details Summer’s side of the story in relation to the (very) public demise of her relationship with producer London on da Track. The album is a painful yet rewarding listen; Summer absolutely smashes the thought of a sophomore slump.

Still Over It’s narrative is mostly linear. Summer spends the first half of the album wallowing in the rubble of her and London’s relationship with a healthy serving of hurt, anger, and disappointment. “Bitter” introduces Still Over It by reintroducing us to the soundscape of the Over It Musical Universe (OIMU). In essence, everyone involved in the situation is bitter — Summer is bitter, the side chicks are bitter, the other baby mamas are bitter, and London is bitter. Summer spits out the hook, “Bitter, yeah, mad at me, mad at my nigga / Mad at the fact he ain’t with you / Mad at the fact that it’s me” with such snarling vitriol that the song immediately commands attention. The palpable anger coursing through the 808-laced track is almost squarely directed at the other women in Summer and London’s relationship. For as restrained as the production is, lyrically, “Bitter” is a full-on diatribe. Nonetheless, the Cardi B voicemail at the end of the song succeeds in balancing out that emotion by reminding Summer to move with grace and in a way that puts her above the antics of her ex. “Do it your own way and do it beautifully, do it special,” Cardi sermonizes. Amen. The album’s lead single, “Ex for a Reason,” which features JT of City Girls, sounds much better in context. The bouncy uptempo finds Summer continuing her musical war against London’s ex-flings with JT coming in with the assist. The only other uptempo on Still Over It is found on the back half of the record (“Dat Right There”), making each uptempo track the tentpoles of the beginning and end of the album’s narrative. In order to get to “Dat Right There,” however, Summer has to eventually direct all of this energy to the true guilty parties — London and herself.

One of the most surprising strengths of Still Over It is when Summer flexes her album sequencing skill. These flexes aren’t too consistent, but when they do occur, they are very effective. “No Love,” a SZA duet dripping with toxicity, is smartly placed before “Throw It Away,” a bluesy Clear EP-esque ballad. The former find two of R&B’s reigning queens joining forces over a sultry bass guitar as they lust over their ideal do-over for a relationship: focus solely on the sex and reject the emotional baggage. This outlook is proven to be a barren fantasy through “Throw It Away.” Summer croons, “How you gonna throw it away? / How you gonna sit and act like it was nothin’?” The connection she and London shared is too strong to be cast to the side without a second thought, even in a theoretical do-over. Later on the album, “Switch A Nigga Out” and “Unloyal” sit beside each other which results in the best one-two punch of the album. “Switch A Nigga Out” finds Summer reflecting on how she has disposed of unsustainable and unfaithful relationships in the past, but with London, she just can’t seem to bring herself to do it. Summer also references “Nobody Else” from Over It in the lyrics (“‘Cause I don’t want nobody, nobody else but you”) of this track, further tying the two albums together beyond their related titles. On the other hand, “Unloyal,” finds Summer recruiting Ari Lennox to revel in the release that comes from walking away from a relationship that doesn’t serve her. From the mournful saxophone solo to the apathetic delivery of the hook, “Unloyal” is a clear standout — and the perfect transition to the second half of the album’s narrative. Between these two instances of album sequencing bliss, Summer churns out a staggering run of songs. “Reciprocate,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “Constant Bullshit,” and “Insane,” all build on the foundation of Over It by blending muted trap drums, guitar, and strings to soundtrack ruminations on how London’s lack of effort resulted in their romance’s demise. Summer is so vulnerable on Still Over It that it’s almost as uncomfortable as it is admirable. She allows herself to be seen as a fool, a victim, a survivor, and a perpetrator all at the same time. There’s a certain bravery needed to publicly beg for the bare minimum of your partner and make that the only condition under which you stay in the relationship, and Summer has it.

LVRN / Interscope

At 21 tracks, Still Over It inevitably starts to drag. None of the tracks are unenjoyable, but so much music can start to feel monotonous when the soundscape remains mostly devoid of variation for over an hour. “Circus” and “Toxic,” are fine records but they don’t feel as pertinent or as necessary as “Broken Promises” or “Screwin.” In “Broken Promises,” Summer finally flips the microscope on herself. Over a murky and moody instrumental, she coos, that she “should’ve listened” when she was initially warned about London and his ways. It’s the most important moment on the album. This song single-handedly elevates Still Over It from a deflective breakup album to a more nuanced look at why relationships fail and how Summer has grown from those experiences. As for “Screwin,” Omarion joins the party on a wildly explicit slow burn that exposes how sex can be used as a rebound but may ultimately manifest itself as a vice. Since Still Over It functions as a sequel to Summer’s star-making debut album, it’s only right that she treats us to a sequel to the song that started it all. Asking that “Session 33” reach the same heights as “Section 32” is unreasonable, but the new track does a good job at following the single-verse stream of consciousness blueprint that the original set. On songs like this, the stream-of-consciousness writing style works beautifully. Summer continues this writing style on the explosive “4th Baby Mama” wherein she lambasts London and exposes him for being a lowdown deadbeat of a partner and father. Summer’s writing on Still Over It is some of her best in the way that she is conveys complex and conflicting emotions so effectively. Nevertheless, she sometimes struggles to reconcile her beloved stream-of-consciousness writing style with more compact hooks and traditional pop structures. On some tracks, however, she offsets this with her improved use of background vocals.

Still Over It is a very strong record. Even in the face, of the asinine “Ciara’s Prayer,” (the idea of Ciara’s Prayer implies that love and prayer are one-size-fits-all concepts, and the whole thing is just corny) the album shines. Summer simultaneously expands the stories and themes of Over It through more mature lyricism and a more vulnerable and frank approach to her art. Furthermore, the decrease in Auto-Tune usage works in Summer’s favor; it’s clearly still there, but it doesn’t sound as abrasive as it sometimes did on Over It. Time will tell if Still Over It is better than its predecessor, but Summer can rest easy knowing that she crafted one hell of an album that will ensure that her star keeps glowing.

Key Tracks: “No Love” | “You Don’t Know Me” | “Broken Promises” | “Unloyal” | “Insane” | “Throw It Away”

Score: 78

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