Tove Lo has always been edgier than most of her pop contemporaries. On the Swedish singer-songwriter’s 2013 breakthrough single, ‘Habits (Stay High)’, she sang about getting mashed and messy after a break-up. “I eat my dinner in my bathtub, then I go to sex clubs” is an opening line that even ultra-provocative, ‘Bangerz’-era Miley Cyrus couldn’t have beaten.
Lo went on to co-write a huge radio hit for Ellie Goulding – 2015’s ‘Love Me Like You Do’ – but stayed more risqué in her own music. She named her second solo album ‘Lady Wood’ and released a series of witty and inventive singles with titles like ‘Disco Tits’ and ‘Bikini Porn’. She even coaxed a (slightly) less nice side out of Kylie Minogue on their 2019 collaboration ‘Really Don’t Like U’, a song about being jealous of your ex’s new girlfriend.
So, in a way, it’s surprising that ‘Dirt Femme’ – Lo’s fifth LP – is her first as an independent artist. Announcing her departure from the major label system back in June, Lo explained: “I like to make these intricate stories that don’t help the algorithm, and maybe aren’t the most commercial way to do pop releases and how you put out pop music.”
‘Dirt Femme’ contains stories that aren’t so much intricate as bracingly honest. On the brilliant ‘Suburbia’, she grapples with her ambivalence about having children: “I can’t be no Stepford Wife,” she sings on the chorus. Two songs with fruity titles, meanwhile, have very different subject matter: ‘Grapefruit’ drills into Lo’s body image issues, while ‘Pineapple Slice’ is essentially about cunnilingus.
Lo doesn’t just take bold swings with her lyrics. Though ‘Dirt Femme’ features plenty of the electropop she’s known for – ‘2 Die 4’ is built around a smart sample from Gershon Kingsley’s classic instrumental ‘Popcorn’ – it also has more musical range than she’s shown on her previous LPs. She teams with fellow Swedes First Aid Kit for the folky ‘Cute And Cruel’, sings her lungs out on the gloriously overwrought ballad ‘True Romance’, and seems to channel Oasis on the anthemic ‘I’m To Blame’. Liam Gallagher actually interpolated a Tove Lo song on his latest album – maybe they could try writing together for his next one?
Lo’s latest club cuts hit harder than their predecessors, too. ‘Call On Me’, one of two collaborations with British dance don SG Lewis, contains echoes of the Hi-NRG sound that dominated gay discos in the early ’80s. The result is an album that’s spiky, surprising and not quite cohesive, but never ever boring. Tove Lo was always much too interesting to be a slave to the algorithm.
- Release date: October 14, 2022
- Record label: Pretty Swede