Pop music no longer has to be pretty and manufactured to picture perfection; the burgeoning pop star Tove Lo is a cementing example of this.
On her 2014 debut album “Queen of the Clouds,” the Swedish musician combined the tender beauty of love with the ugly realities that often follow behind. Hit singles such as “Habits (Stay High)” and “Talking Body” discussed love as a constant struggle between pleasure and pain, and this same mentality continues on her latest album “Lady Wood.” However, Lo’s latest effort continues the narrative with some of her most personal lyrics to date and a new sound that will fill out the dance floor, redefining herself as a radio-ready artist without sacrificing any of her frank confessionalism.
“Lady Wood” is the second incarnation of a four-part concept album following “Queen of the Clouds,” which explains why it plays out like a more radio-friendly extension of her debut. Even though “Lady Wood” discusses many of the same topics as its predecessor, it does so tenfold; the highs reach higher, the lows sink deeper and yet her confidence remains one of her most valuable assets throughout the entire journey. Her appeal is not in her perfection, but in the way she owns her flaws. The song “Influence” sets herself up as an unreliable narrator under the intoxicating influence of love for the rest of the album, but she pulls it off in her candor: “I’m under the influence, so don’t trust every word I say.”
Tove Lo’s forthright honesty is refreshing in the pop realm, a genre often critiqued in its manufactured perfectionism. Lo is able to effortlessly pull off songs that would make other artists cringe at her frank depictions of female sexuality and overrunning confidence, among other topics. The album’s title track, in addition to the album’s suggestive imagery (her own hand slipping in the waistband of her cutoff jeans), treads the line between sexy and crass, but still she pulls it off in how she embraces every facet of herself: “Dirty on the inside, damaged goods with nothing but pride, yeah, you give me wood, give me lady wood.” Furthermore, the cocky simplicity of songs such as the album’s lead single “Cool Girl” drips with conviction; its glitchy, stuttering hook proves her potency: “I’m a cool girl, I’m a, I’m a cool girl. Ice cold, I roll my eyes at you, boy.”
“Lady Wood” manages to mature Tove Lo’s sound while still remaining playful and alluring. Considering the EDM and dance music inflections on the album, Lo’s strongest moments on the album occur in its darkest songs. She and her collaborator Joe Janiak combine both acoustic and electronic elements as she finally admits defeat, singing, “I need you to lick my wounds.” When left to her own devices, Tove Lo becomes an unpredictable mess as shown on the track “Imaginary Friend,” begging “Imaginary friend, stay with me ‘til the end now, keeping me dreaming.” But as always, these flaws define her charm.
Love is a debaucherous concept to Tove Lo; this is exemplified on both her albums. To her, love is an indulgent vice akin to hard drugs and harder partying; all of the highs come at a steep emotional price. However, the punishment does not ward her off – it only keeps her going.