Review Summary: A fun pop record, plain and simple.
I’ve often had a hard time accepting the term “guilty pleasure” regarding any art form. Taken literally at face value, this label means that one feels guilty or embarrassed for enjoying a particular piece of work; however, it just seems a bit self-deprecating and insecure to me. Sure, pop princesses like Katy Perry and Kesha display a remarkable level of vapidity and gloss in their lyrics and music. But if you enjoy them regardless and find yourself grooving to their music anyway, I feel as though there shouldn’t be shame in that. No, I found a better term: “simple pleasures.” The label applies to many of the artists that are often considered guilty pleasures; the music may not be cerebral or technical, and the lyrics may be dumbed down, but the beats and melodies are catchy enough to enjoy on a superficial level. As for today’s review, one of Tove Lo’s sophomore release Lady Wood
(what a title!), “simple pleasure” is the best label I can use here.
When her debut Queen of the Clouds
came out, Tove Lo seemed poised to break quite a few typical pop cliches and conventions. The decision to break the album up into three sections - The Sex, The Love, and The Pain - and separate them with interludes was a neat idea, one that harkened back to the interlude-driven conceptual nature of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814
record. The music largely consisted of electropop bangers, but there was a certain depth to admire in the songwriting and especially Tove Lo’s passionate singing. Lady Wood
, while stylistically similar, is much more lean and stripped down; the grand choruses and glossy production are there, and yet a more straightforward no-frills pop record ended up being the result. Hell, there’s a Wiz Khalifa feature in the very first track (barring the intro)! However, while this album often doesn’t match the heights and ambitions of Queen of the Clouds
, Tove Lo may have made the right decision here. With a 39-minute runtime, Lady Wood
isn’t quite as overlong as its predecessor; we simply get 12 sharp cuts of electropop and synthpop fun, many of which are undercut with dark pulsing club-ready beats that lend a certain edge to the music. The intro “Fairy Dust” immediately kicks the album off with a spacious synthesizer motif, one which creeps so subtly into the next song “Influence” that it all feels like one track. This, more or less, sets the tone for the rest of the album. Flash meets minimalism, and soft verses clash with grand choruses.
There’s some variety once in a while, such as the nimble off-kilter beats of the title track contrasting with the melancholic acoustic guitar of “Vibes”; or there’s the tonal disparity between both of the album’s interludes. Regardless, the dark electropop vibe with haunting synthesizers and pounding rhythms is what remains similar throughout the experience. When you get down to it, Tove Lo herself is the one holding everything together with her strong vocal performances. She might not have carved out a full-fledged identity quite yet, but the varied dynamics and confidence of her singing give a more organic feel to the synthetic instrumentation. This is especially true of the highlight “Don’t Talk About It,” in which her multi-tracked vocals and soaring falsetto lend some real soul to her songwriting muscle. While the songs tend to become indistinguishable from time to time, Tove tries her hardest to inject variety with numerous different vocal techniques, although the sultry and seductive route is often what she chooses.
There are some weird quirks on the production end of things however, the oddest of which being an interesting lack of bass in the mix. It’s certainly there
to an extent, and the beats are pounding and loud, but there’s a distinct lack of punch from time to time. Also, the lyrics are blunter with their themes of sex and betrayal than on Queen of the Clouds
. This occasionally works when combined with Tove’s sexy vocal stylings, but does seem like a letdown after the way the album’s predecessor explored so many facets of love and infatuation. Stuff like “Rumors are their only friends/spread that shit around’s what turns them on” from the title track just seems so catty and douchey, and then there’s something like, “temperature is taking hold/heart beating faster and faster/I’ll be your brand new disaster” from “Vibes,” which sounds like an erotic version of a terrible romance novel you’d find at Walmart for three dollars. I’m not saying all pop lyrics have to be Shakespearian poetry, but considering how decent these compositions are, it’d be nice to have more lines of a similar quality to the songwriting.
Still, I can’t get too mad at Lady Wood
. Despite the weirdly provocative and off-puttingly sexual title, this is a fun slice of pop with strong choruses and great vocals. There’s a lot of energy here despite the dark undertow left by the murky synthesizer parts, and the contrast of minimalist and ostentatious moments is cool to hear. The album is
a step down from Queen of the Clouds
, however, and doesn’t really strive to be much more than an entertaining synthpop record. But sometimes, that kind of simplistic fun is all you need.