Review Summary: You're not the one.
Whenever I listen to music, honesty is always something that instantly makes it a lot more relatable and powerful. There’s a huge difference between artists who just sing words because they’re told to and artists who take it in from the heart by putting to paper all the experiences they’ve felt, no matter how positive or negative they may be. After all, life is full of its ups and downs, its highs and its lows, its pros and its cons. With that in mind, it's no surprise that better songwriting comes from those who are earnest about themselves. Enter Tove Lo (birth name Tove Nilsson), a 26-year old singer-songwriter from Stockholm, Sweden, who rose to international fame with her breakthrough single, “Habits (Stay High)”. While that song is far from her best work, it did bring a darker aura that has been mostly absent from the pop music scene, recently with its cathartic lyrics discussing engaging in the addictive use of recreational drugs in order to cope with the end of a failed relationship. Its sinister atmosphere was pretty much paved the way for Tove Lo’s debut album, which manages to display all different sides of her life and personality.
Split up into three sections – “The Sex”, “The Love” and “The Pain”, each capped off by a short spoken-word interlude, Queen of the Clouds
documents the gradual rise and fall of a relationship, right from the initial spark of lust all the way down to the final acceptance of hopelessness. Unsurprisingly, the star of all of this is Tove Lo herself. Her soaring vocals reach heights that show off the talent in her voice, and even when it’s more subdued, you can still hear the emotion when she sings. Ranging from seductive to brokenhearted, there’s a lush texture to it at times that gives it a sense of earnestness and relatability. Lyrically, Queen of the Clouds
does a good job of providing listeners with enough detail (sometimes too much) to complement the vocals, and the twin-axe attack of sentiment delivers a blow that is felt throughout a good portion of the album. Sure, it may exclusively deal with love, but there’s a lack of love songs, actually – its mantra is more about ardor and coping than stereotypical proclamations.
Despite all the greatness Queen of the Clouds
has to offer, it does suffer from some underlying flaws, the biggest of which being how damn inconsistent it is. There are just as many emotion-soaked highlights as there are songs that are completely devoid of any good and do nothing but take up album space. For every “Talking Body” or “This Time Around”, there are tracks like “Got Love” or “Habits (Stay High)” that are nothing special and don’t offer any memorable moments; in the case of the latter, its annoying “oh-oh”s and way-too descriptive lyrics about sex clubs and Twinkie-binging work against its favor. Even worse are songs that actually contain potential but are completely ruined by a few poor songwriting decisions. “Timebomb” has a chorus that’s not all that bad, but the rest of the song is way too wordy that it’s actually pretty hilarious to listen to it, although sifting through the rubble just to hear the hook isn’t worth it. Elsewhere, “The Way That I Am” wastes an opportunity to be a powerful ballad by its overindulgence in dubstep that completely strips away any pretense of emotion, since Tove Lo’s rising vocals are drowned in the layers of fat low-end and kick-snare synths.
With that said, Queen of the Clouds
is not without its highlights. “Talking Body” is Tove Lo at her most suggestive, and when she declares, “If we’re talking body, you’ve got a perfect one so put it on me / If you love me right, we fuck for life”, it’s not that hard to figure out what she wants. The production on it really helps set an appropriate mood; similarly, “My Gun” does the same with its firearm-themed production – using gunshots as beats never sounded so on point before. Even when she takes a more downbeat approach to her music, there’s still that revealing nature that makes it seem more down-to-earth than it actually is. It’s songs like “Moments”, where she outlines all of her flaws and blemishes, that feel rawer and realer than misfires like “Thousand Miles” and “Habits (Stay High)”. The album reaches an apex at “Not on Drugs”, which, although it’s not the most lyrically impressive song on the record, features incredibly amazing production and when the bass drops over Tove Lo’s heartbreaking cry of “Baby don’t you see, I’m not on drugs, I’m just in love”, everything just comes together so euphorically in a wonderful climax that’s perfectly summative of the album’s core themes as a whole.
If this debut is any indication, Tove Lo is a bright young star with plenty of potential to rise above the rest of her pop contemporaries. Yet, despite all of the greatness that it brings to the table, Queen of the Clouds
is just way too inconsistent to solidify it as one of the year’s best. For every showstopping, breathtaking highlight, there’s a cringeworthy, faulty misstep that just drags the album down. It’s not even particularly front-loaded or back-loaded; the bad is evenly sprinkled right around the good, and there’s rarely a point on the tracklisting where two good songs are placed next to each other. While these things do make Queen of the Clouds
a bit of a frustrating listen, at the end of the day, the good manages to outweigh the bad. The downright honesty and rawness of the album coupled with Tove Lo’s star-studded vocals and excellent production and songwriting all add up to a record that’s pretty inconsistent but plays out its strengths well. It’s not the prettiest debut you’ve ever seen, but it has its moments, and those moments are enough.