Any pop singer with a body piercing and the odd song about sex gets called ‘edgy’, but Tove Lo deserves this tag more than most. “I eat my dinner in my bathtub / Then I go to sex clubs”, she sang nonchalantly on 2013’s ‘Habits (Stay High)’, which became a huge hit in 2014 after being remixed by production duo Hippie Sabotage. Now, after adding vocals to suggestive hits by Years & Years (‘Desire’) and Nick Jonas (‘Close’), the intriguing Swede has named her second album ‘Lady Wood’. The likes of Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez just wouldn’t dare.
Lo says ‘Lady Wood’ is actually a two-part concept album about chasing rushes: the first half channels anticipation and, says the album’s press release, “that tingling sensation of sex”; the second deals with the comedown where “you feel a little bit uneasy. And you really want to chase that feeling again”. She certainly commits to her theme. After declaring herself “fine as f**k” on ‘Influence’, she sings about hooking up and getting hard on ‘Lady Wood’, tells us she doesn’t fancy pretty boys (or pretty girls) on ‘True Disaster’, and elbows away monogamy on ‘Cool Girl’ by singing, “No, let’s not put a label on it / Let’s keep it fun”.
As her concept promises, the second half is darker, a little more despondent. ‘Imaginary Friend’ and ‘Flashes’ prickle with loneliness and vulnerability, while the sleazy strip-club grind of ‘Don’t Talk About It’ owes an obvious debt to The Weeknd. ‘Keep It Simple’, a song about feeling unable to commit emotionally, features the brilliantly blunt line, “I go to bed with you but dream about him”.
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.