Album Review: Summer Walker – Still Over It

[Interscope; 2021]

Love and loyalty are two of the sharpest double-edged swords; if slightly mishandled you inevitably end up with some emotional lacerations that heal very slowly. R&B singer-songwriter Summer Walker has already established her familiarity with such pain on her 2019 debut Over It – which featured the morosely catchy hit “Playing Games” – and now, on the sequel, emphatically titled Still Over It, she probes even deeper into the disillusionment that stems from betrayal.

With a dated tracklist – no literally, each track is accompanied by a date that chronologically tracks this romantic nosedive – and telling a proper narrative, Summer explores the volatile and ugly modern relationship dynamic tainted by disloyalty, rumours, social media, disrespect and lack of reciprocity while also portraying how love can be compromised by newfound success and ego.

Summer’s vocals are just as acrobatically capable as her R&B peers, yet even through her casually smooth runs there is a glacial directness in her delivery of these lyrics. Take, for instance, the album opener “Bitter”, which situates the listener right away in Summer’s anger at the exposure of fame and people being in her business – particularly regarding her relationship which, at this point, she is defending against all kinds of haters (“Sometimes I know I be trippin’ / But why these hoes in our business?”). It ends with a voicemail from Cardi B that essentially becomes the manifesto for the album, where she gives Summer advice to essentially put all her pain into the music: “Make them bitches feel hurt, hit them bitches where it hurt. And put that shit in your music…” It becomes both a foundation for the album’s narrative and also a sadly ironic opener when considering the closer (which we will get to later).

The future chart-topper “No Love” featuring SZA is a masterpiece in synergy between two of R&B’s leading female artists. A subversively empowering middle finger of a track, it finds the ladies singing about what they would do differently if they had the chance to go back in time and re-do their toxic relationships with partners who constantly devalued them (“If I did it all again / I would give like ten percent / You deserve half of that.”) With responsive vocal stacking, the chorus paints a hedonistic picture (“If I had you all I’d want to do is fuck / Get drunk /Take drugs”) about not letting the relationship ever become anything serious because it ultimately isn’t worth it.

The production on Still Over It remains, for the most part, comfortable in a downtempo murkiness of drawling instruments and smooth tempos, while Summer’s vocal layering adds a delicious harmonic backbone to the project. However, there is a lot more sonic variation and progression from her previous album that allows this 20-track project to never become a wearying listen.

For example, the warm ambience of “Insane” is an addictive slice of alternative R&B where Summer’s vocals, if possible, are even more buttery smooth. Elsewhere, “Constant Bullshit” – with its incorporated orchestrations – is a beautiful R&B track that laments how a partner’s actions undo their proclamations of love, and Summer also references her massive hit “Playing Games” (“Do you mean it when you say my name? / ’Cause latel , all this bullshit ain’t makin’ me feel what you say.”) The Neptunes-produced “Dat Right There” (naturally featuring Pharrell) adds a synth-y bouncy injection of perkiness in this album that has Summer proclaiming her confidence unabashedly.

The jewel in the crown of these new sounds, however, is the incredible “Ex For A Reason” (featuring JT from City Girls) which is a rapturously aggressive yet upbeat track about navigating the drama your partner’s ex-partner causes. Summer is in fight mode and has no qualms about confrontation: “That bitch your ex for a reason though / Try me / Trespass / Guaranteed to beat your ass.” There’s a sense of humour on the track: “Know I’m the type to go through my n*gga’s phone,” she admonishes herself before justifying it: “But it be on my nerves when it keeps ringing back to back / Who the fuck is that?” – always with an undercurrent of sharpness. This proved a shocking lead single for fans who had mixed feelings for the new sound, but it is also a testament to Summer’s sharp-tongued versatility and portends some exciting new directions in future projects.

While justified anger does pervade the album, there are some devastatingly poignant, stripped-back tracks that create introspective moments of pathos. “You Don’t Know Me” is an airy guitar ballad that mourns how one can build a treasure trove of memories and experiences – even build a family – with someone and still feel alienated from their partner: “It’s been two years, we got some kids / We been through hella shit / Travelled the world, ran up the bag / We done it all and that’s why it’s sad that / You don’t know me.”

The self-written “Session 33” has Summer plaintively strumming her guitar and singing her grief over her partner’s inability to be there for her. “You’ll continue to try to play these games/Leave your family in the cold and rain / And I don’t think you’ll ever change your ways / ’Cause a house is not a home when no one’s there,” she sings, defeated. It is these types of contemplative songs that often provide the hardest punches and remind listeners that the emotions of a turbulent relationship are often varied but ultimately draining and scarring.

Then we arrive at the album’s devastating finale. The depressingly venomous “4th Baby Mama” is the apex of anger and exhaustion that will leave listeners gobsmacked at its unflinchingly unfiltered nature. Summer takes no prisoners dedicating a first verse to her cheating partner’s mother who refuses to call out her son’s toxic behaviour: “Paying for trips, cars, bags / And bought the crib / But she ain’t never call you out / ’Cause she like the way that she live.” She reproaches her unfaithful and clout-chasing partner (“You ain’t give a fuck about me / You was just tryna cash in / Only buy me nice shit, big dates, just for Instagram flashin’,” then she proceeds to directly call out the father of her child for his disloyalty and coldness: “How could make me spend my whole fucking pregnancy alone?” There are many such lyrics in “4th Baby Mama” that will raise the eyebrows, even beyond what’s mentioned here. The song portrays the final straw in all its cathartic release; it’s a testament to the power of realisation and shows that Summer’s perception of her turbulent relationship has done a complete 180 since the album’s beginning. From defending to letting go – this indicates that Summer has gone through her own emotional arc and has learned some harsh lessons.

Still Over It is audacious in its realness: it’s willing to disclose that, for all the success Summer has achieved in being one of the leading R&B ladies, she is still a human with her own crosses to bear. It is a new chapter – but the past cannot help but bite at her heels as she’s adrift in her jadedness over a relationship gone sour. With new sonic avenues being explored, a wider array of producers, and her unmistakably transparent lyrics, Summer has created a phenomenal album that is top-tier confessional R&B. Every painful angle of relationships is explored right to the bone and her blunt honesty is wrapped in boppy production and satisfying melodies. She may still be over it, but listeners will not be over this project for a long time to come.