Release Date: Oct 28, 2016
Record label: Island
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Dance-Pop, Alternative Pop/Rock
With her second record Lady Wood, Tove Lo uses a stunning technicolour pop soundtrack to tackle the preposterous idea that women are here to be objectified by men and passive when it comes to sex. Lo has always been an astonishingly candid writer. The opening line of "Habits (Stay High)" her breakthrough from debut album Queen of the Clouds, “I eat my dinner in my bathtub, then I go to sex clubs watching freaky people getting it on”, was sung in such a matter of fact manner it was as if to say, ‘women enjoy sex too, what’s the big deal?’.
Pop music’s shift away from the club and into the darkness of humanity was inevitable, as recession and conservatism has helped sway public consciousness away from the light and into the shadow. Glitter has been replaced with grit, optimism replaced with realism. Enter, then, Tove Lo, the embodiment of millennial angst, rage and uncertainty. Her debut album, ‘Queen of the Clouds’, is a melancholic and almost anthropological examination of the human condition where sex, love and mental illness are discussed in a way that only someone without the shackles of pre-millennium existence could.
Tove Lo's new album trades in the dynamic, hedonistic pop of her debut Queen of the Clouds for icy, downtempo club hits. While there aren't as many standout singles this time around, the Swedish singer impressively maintains a consistent tone throughout, and its two-part structure adds to its listenability as an album experience, though singles "Cool Girl" and "True Disaster" make for easy, catchy samplers. Long live Swedish pop.
“Crushing my heart / Tear me apart / Hate on this world / ‘cos reality sucks,” Tove Lo intones on “Imaginary Friend”, and boy do we hear it. Released just before Halloween 2016, the sophomore effort from Swedish pop artist Tove Lo immediately announced itself as a much darker, more sinister version of its hit 2014 predecessor Queen of the Clouds. Both albums detail the perspective of a woman who wants to go to clubs, get fucked up, and have sex on her terms—but what grounds it is in the way that she deals with the consequences.
For the lead single of her second album, Tove Lo chose as inspiration one of the most-circulated and least-understood literary quotes of the past decade, the “Cool Girl” monologue from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl: “Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding.
The cover photo of Tove Lo's sophomore effort is a close-up of the Swedish singer's ringed fingers provocatively tugging on her denim shorts and exposing her navel, a clear homage to the front of Madonna's Like a Prayer LP. But while Tove Lo, née Nilsson, has cited the Queen of Pop as an influence, any obvious likeness to Madonna's 1989 opus—or any other album by the Material Girl for that matter—ends there. Lady Wood is wed to modern pop trends, and to the extent that the album does make nods to '80s music, like the new wave-infused “True Disaster,” those gestures are filtered through a patently contemporary lens a la Taylor Swift's 1989.
Swedish singer Tove Lo works a killer pop paradox: her songs sleek and sheer, her bare-knuckled lyrics delivered with chill concision. But her world is a mess of bleary late nights and confessional abandon: "Give zero fucks about it," she sings on "True Disaster," from her second LP. "I know I'm gonna get hurt." Lucky for us, she gives as good as she gets.
After the frankness of songs like "Habits (Stay High)" and "Talking Body," it's not surprising that Tove Lo named her second album after a term for a female erection. Even her collaboration with Alesso, "Heroes (We Could Be)," kept some of Queen of the Clouds' dark, rebellious charisma, which she refines on Lady Wood. Building on the success of that song and "Talking Body," Lo takes her music in a sleeker direction informed by EDM and R&B.
Pushing female agency is a big concern for Tove Lo, the pop singer attempting to consolidate the international multi-platinum success of her 2014 debut, Queen of the Clouds, with a follow-up. Lady Wood here refers not to the parliamentary constituency in greater Birmingham but to a female version of a hard-on, to girls having “balls”. Lo seeks to fulfil that second-album recipe for success: more of the same, but different.
Tove Lo’s swearing is her USP. The Swedish singer is already notable for her effing and blinding, and it’s something she continues on this second album, boasting about how she’s “fine as fuck” on the Wiz Khalifa collaboration Influence, and revealing her tendency to “fuck things up” on Flashes. It’s refreshing – perhaps partly because the musical backdrop resembles the umpteen other breathy, EDM-flavoured electropoppers so anodyne that any point of difference is like a very dim light at the end of a very long tunnel, but also because the sense of sexual liberation her profanity has tended to be in the service of (on 2014’s Talking Body she promised a partner they’d “fuck for life”) is straightforwardly joyful.
While 2016 introduced enough tragedies and embarrassments to last a decade, it did offer a slew of new viewpoints from a woman’s perspective. A fresh posse of superheroes turned superheroines blasted through poltergeists, sexists, and internet trolls to tell a story that grossed over $120 million at the box office. The story of black women’s plight, plunder, and their power found worthy narrators in the form of the Knowles sisters.
Some listeners may not warm to Lo’s persona, but her songwriting skills are difficult to fault (she’s also co-written hits for Ellie Goulding and Girls Aloud on the side). Aided by collaborators including Lorde producer Joel Little and Max Martin’s protégé Ilya Salmanzadeh, she keeps the hooks coming throughout as her hip, minimal electro-pop quivers, shimmers, pulses and throbs. When she sings, “I know that I’m a handful” on final song ‘WTF Love Is’, it’s hard not to admire her for embracing it so persuasively in her music.
When pop works best, its mechanisms simultaneously shine and disappear. The music becomes a neat, irresistible package that delivers a burst of emotion — something so startling and immediate that it’s more welcome with every return of the chorus. The Swedish singer and songwriter Tove Lo regularly made that happen on her 2014 debut album, “Queen of the Clouds.” She emerged from Max Martin’s Stockholm hit factory, Wolf Cousins, with songs that portrayed her as a girl proud of her wild streak.