Tove Lo loves a good “fuck”. From the self-aware start to the opening track ‘Influence’ – “First line, take mine; I’m fine as fuck”, to the title of album closer ‘WTF Love Is’, Tove’s love affair with expletives is one half of the reason why she’ll remain the thinking person’s favourite pop star while remaining steadfastly radio un-friendly.
The other half is Lo’s explicit ownership of loving a good fuck. From the album title, with the o’s designed to look like vaginas, to the artwork that brings to mind The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers as much as it does Madonna’s Like A Prayer, the first half of Lady Wood is almost singularly about Tove’s emotional response to the physical act. But in this first half there’s very little of the lovey-dovey stuff, it’s all about the joy of sex, the pleasure she’s receiving from her partner(s), the happiness she’s revelling in from the no-strings-attached’ness of her daily life.
‘Influence’ reuses the sex-as-a-drug metaphor from her big hit ‘Stay High’, the title track finds her attracted to another person who views sex the same way she does which in itself is enough to turn her on, while early single ‘Cool Girl’ was apparently influenced by the psychological thriller ‘Gone Girl’, with Tove playing (or is she?) the kind of emotionally-distant sex-bot that all men think they want.
‘Vibes’ arrives at the half-way point, and earmarks the moment when Lo seems to realise that maybe she wants more than just a one-night thing. Duetting with relative unknown Joe Janiak (he was composer on Britney’s recent ‘Make Me’ single),the push and pull of sexual desire and whatever might happen next is palpable: “Do you feel it too / Feeling so hot falling into you”.
‘Imaginary Friend’ she begs for her subconscious BFF not to abandon her, and she sings about being afraid, and after being so brazen and powerful, you’d wonder what could possibly frighten Tove Lo, and the answer becomes staggeringly clear – she’s afraid of falling in love. ‘Don’t Talk About It’ and ‘Flashes’ put up the walls that being a celebrity can build in potential relationships, ‘Keep It Simple’ finds her still yearning for an ex while lying in bed with a current conquest who wants to be more than just a sex-toy, while the bridge of ‘WTF Love is’ is practically a cry for help from someone who starts every relationship already expecting it to end – “Look for me, I know that I’m a handful / But you get me, know what you signed up for / Live up to the best and the worst of your dreams”.
Having spent the past few months being the best thing on other people’s songs – Nick Jonas’ ‘Close’, Years & Years’ ‘Desire’, Flume’s ‘Say It’ – there was a fear that the stand-out sound from her debut album might be lost in wanting to fit in a little more, but if anything, Lo has managed to stand out even more. Despite the production of some of Max Martin’s protégé group, which will bring out the deep, dark pinks and purples in the synesthesia listeners in the same way Ariana Grande’s ‘Love Me Harder’ or The Weeknd’s ‘In The Night’ did, it does sound like pop music… but not quite as we know it.
‘Keep It Simple’ works off that electro-church organ sound you would’ve heard all over Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, ‘Vibes’ has that same subtle verse to explosive chorus ratio that dominated Adam Lambert’s underrated banger ‘Ghosttown’, while both ‘Cool Girl’ and ‘Lady Wood’ feature a down-tempo Major Lazer-esque breakdown that make them equally suited to the dancefloor and the bedroom.
Lo’s sound is cutting edge, and what she sings about can be so emotionally complicated that it’s impossible not to get drawn into the world she’s singing about, the dichotomy of longing physically and emotionally, and how rare it is to find both of those with the same person, and how if you do find that person, the terrifying nature that it might not work out, that they might leave, and then what? Lose yourself in sex again? Try the relationship hunt for the perfect partner again? Lo doesn’t have the answers, but she’s doing her best to find out.