Sex and drugs and… electro-pop? It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as the original idiom – coined by Ian Dury in the 1970s – but Swedish singer, Tove Lo, has carved herself a niche in recent years with her blending of candid, autobiographical, lyrics and catchy pop musicality. It is a combination that met with critical, and commercial, success on Lo’s debut album, 2014’s Queen of the Clouds, and she hasn’t much messed with the formula on Lady Wood, but it doesn’t make for the type of pop-music one usually envisions coming from Sweden.
Broken up into two chapters, Fairy Dust and Fire Fade, which describe life’s various types of rushes, Lo has indicated that Lady Wood is the first part of a planned double album, with the second part to be released next year and containing the chapters, Light Beams and Pitch Black. It is certainly an ambitious approach to take to a sophomore record, though it fits with the fact Queen of the Clouds was a concept album. Throughout Lady Wood – and let’s be clear, yes, the title is a reference to female sexual-arousal – there is a strong ambiguity around whether Lo is lamenting, celebrating, or simply observing, a sexually liberal and chemically effected life-style.
Despite Lo’s reliance on repetition – especially when it comes to choruses, which almost seems par for the course these days – she has consistently demonstrated that she can craft polished electro/synth-pop songs. This is both a strength and a weakness, as it’s all too easy to overlooked the content of the shadowy, semi-confessional, narratives Lo weaves throughout the songs with her light-lyric soprano voice, and lead single, Cool Girl, perfectly captures both sides of this coin. Don’t Talk About It utilises Lo’s penchant to repetition to generate an oppressive atmosphere which matches the lyrics, and the refrain of “I ain’t ready” set over a dance beat on Keep It Simple enables the song to build its layers of vocals and music.
Influence and Vibes feature guest performances, from Wiz Khalifa and Joe Janiak respectively. On Influence, the addition of Khalifa works well enough while also managing to not add a great deal to the track, although by raising questions of consent and who’s using who, the song is definitely intriguing. Janiak’s driving and tense guitar contribution to Vibes, as well as his vocals, provide a nice change of tone on a song that jumps around musically. There are plenty of individual elements on Lady Wood that normally wouldn’t work for me, yet somehow Lo has managed to create and album that is surprisingly engaging, and offers more than just the standard pop-fare for anyone willing to delve beyond the surface layers.