Review Summary: Still sexy, still outgoing, now evolving.
As much as I enjoyed Lady Wood
, the most difficult thing about its presence was separating the sex appeal from the art. Tove Lo managed to take the raunchier aspects of her debut record Queen of the Clouds
and propel them straight to the forefront for a truly racy experience. But in turn, doing so diminished the three-dimensional “flawed relationship” vibe her original material evoked. And this isn’t just a musical problem either; after all, she flashes her tits onstage with almost every show she performs, as well as cultivating a reckless party attitude in her very image. I don’t mind any of this, mind you, but all I ask is that there be substance behind all the controversy and flash. To top things off, the album cover for this new record doesn’t exactly help. Seeing a bare ass being squeezed on the cover art got me concerned that the direction would be an even raunchier continuation of Lady Wood
, with little regard to Tove Lo’s promising songwriting capabilities.
Thankfully, I was quite wrong this time around. Yes, Blue Lips
is still steamy and arousing, but the tasteful electropop framework is both appealing and even subtle. Tove Lo has a much stronger ear for dynamics this time around, varying up each successive piece with fresh synthesizers and beats that create a real sense of atmosphere. There are even a few interesting experiments on offer, such as the jazz-influenced piano work in “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” or the dense chasm of deep keyboard effects that shapes the interlude “Pitch Black.” Moreover, the production behind each track is wonderfully crisp and pristine, along with giving some real weight and gravity to the bass and the wide variety of beats. There’s equal distribution of volume given to both Tove Lo’s voice and the instrumentation itself, which is a smart move considering the improved variety and overall quality of the songwriting. Even the lead single was a bit of an unusual choice, as “Disco Tits” (yes, that’s actually the name) is a minimalist number with weird little staccato stabs at the keyboard from time to time. The lyrics are incredibly sexual, but the alternation between spoken word and melodic singing was a nice touch, as if to alter the mood and perspectives of the track.
And this leads me to the biggest improvement over Lady Wood
: the overarching concept. We have some story
to chew on here, mostly centered around - as Tove Lo herself stated - “the highs, lows, and ultimate demise of a relationship.” In fact, this album is apparently Phase II of what I suppose is the “Lady Wood
record string”. But the difference here is that there’s some actual drama and emotional maturity that melds with the sexy vibe Tove Lo usually brings to her music. In this way, we’re closer to Queen of the Clouds
again. My personal favorite example of said maturity is on the highlight “Romantics,” a slow-moving pop ballad that speaks about living it up with your lover despite every obstacle trying to obstruct this picture-perfect view of romance. This theme continues and bleeds into “Cycles,” which rides a minimalist pseudo-Latin electronica beat as Tove Lo sings about living in a repetitive relationship that she can’t seem to shake off. Eventually, things come crashing down in the following track “Struggle,” as the melancholic ballad about lost communication and feelings of indecision with the narrator’s supposed lover. In fact, the second side of Blue Lips
does indeed seem like the stronger side of the two. Speaking of which, I should mention that “Pitch Black” actually serves as a separator between the two acts of the album. The second side’s melancholic nature, likely signifying the “ultimate demise of the relationship,” is what brings the most interesting statements on the record. But I believe this was a bit intentional as well; having energetic dance tracks like “shedontknowbutsheknows” and “Shivering Gold” is a great attention grabber before surprising listeners with the deeper cuts.
I’m not going to act like Blue Lips
is a perfect album or anything. There are still quite a few questionable lyrical choices here, such as the ridiculously gratuitous use of profanity in “Struggle” (see the repeated chorus of: “fuck fuck fuck some sense into me; gold for loneliness, I will pay”). The music also gets homogeneous around the middle, despite efforts to inject some variety in the songwriting and arrangements. Something tells me that Tove Lo should start experimenting outside of electronic pop music at some point, because it seems as though she’s starting to dry out that well. But when stacked up against Lady Wood
, this record is a really nice step in the right direction. It’s packed with color and personality, and the simple-yet-effective approach to songcraft here compliments Tove Lo’s vocals and romantic tales quite well. Let’s just hope she takes even more risks the next time around for album #4.