Review Summary: Adorable, but with plenty of bite
Within the realms of modern pop music, there are very few as self-aware and singularly focused at Tove Lo. The highly sexualised, rebellious aesthetic that was established in her debut LP has snaked its way into every subsequent release, and when paired with the individual ideal of each record, has yielded different but unique results. Queen Of The Clouds, her most straightforward pop release, was a refreshing adaptation of modern songstress sensibilities with more than a cursory sense of edginess thrown in. Lady Wood was the overcompensating sophomore album- still infectious, but this time overflowing with attitude and an attempted grandiosity that buckled under its own weight. Quickly learning from her mistakes, Lady Wood Phase II: Blue Lips released in 2017; more mature, more adventurous in both theme and composition, and considerably more enjoyable as a result. One of the most compelling factors of the musical style on display throughout her career is the use of sex as a strength rather than a mere marketing tactic; clear in both live performances and studio recordings, the sense of empowerment is palpable. Even if this angle was revealed at a later date to be a cynical ploy for attention, the irony that Tove Lo has been much maligned by the industry would not be lost in the effect that writing such quintessentially feminine anthems ultimately had. She may be best known for a remix of one of her first singles, but despite this, the evolution of her output is plain to see at even a passing glance.
Sunshine Kitty is, in many ways, the culmination of every release that came before it, and as such feels as appropriate and fitting an addition to her backcatalogue as any of her other LPs. In many ways, the aesthetic appears to have come full circle, with the poppy hooks of QotC, the whimsicality of LW, and the suppressed emotionality of BL all amalgamated into an easily digestible, satisfyingly bouncy mix of buoyant and infectious, if subdued, energy. Predominantly, song structures conform to the usual verse-chorus-verse-chorus style, but the simplicity of the hooks when combined with the vocal melodies and sleek rhythms is highly endearing. Tracks such as ‘Glad He’s Gone’, ‘Stay Over’ and ‘Shifted’ are very basic from a technical standpoint, yet also have nuanced production that brings the compositions together to make them more than the sum of their parts. The sexual imagery is dominant and eroticised in a heavily modern way, and this works in tandem with the suggestively fluctuating tunes and vocalised hooks. ‘Stay Over’, especially, is sultry and provocative, with a contained but operatic crash effect used as a rhythm base. It creates an almost fairytale-like vibe to a decidedly simple but relatively relatable theme. All of these songs emphasise a breeziness on additions such as ‘Equally Lost’ and ‘Mistaken’, which is a very welcome juxtaposition. The latter, which has perhaps the most aggressively emotional tone on the album, is sustained by a well-written melody carried by the singer, against the backdrop of a basic synth line (harking back to Lady Wood’s effective straightforwardness). It flows pleasantly despite its heavy topic and manages to effectively see-saw between tones of despair and acceptance in a delicate way- which is a huge credit to Tove Lo’s ability as a singer.
‘Sweettalk My Heart’, easily the closest thing to a title track as Sunshine Kitty has to offer, is probably the most surreal track on the album, but it succeeds due to its amicability, particularly during the excitable and catchy chorus. It also does not venture too heavily into the sexual vibes present on some of the album’s other songs, and instead opts for an idealistically romantic sense of freedom. Similarly, ‘Are U Gonna Tell Her’ and ‘Come Undone’ have gorgeous melodies, particularly during the choruses, and illustrate Tove’s ability to accentuate simplicity with her vocal tones perhaps better than at any other point on the LP. The latter’s syncopated beat is especially effective against the woodwind style synth washes during the chorus, and the fast vocal descends compliment the yearning tone excellently. Weakest offerings, ‘Jacques’ and ‘Bad As The Boys’, as a rather dramatic comparison, feel underwritten and awkward in the context of the album. ‘Jacques’ serves as a club banger- a direction largely unexplored since QotC- and whilst it is enjoyable for what it is, there is very little innovation at work in the drops or lyricism. ‘Bad As The Boys’ feels so throwaway the album would almost certainly be better served without it. However, ‘Really Don’t Like U’, featuring a certain Kylie Minogue, is an absolute joy. Absurdly catchy, smartly penned, and with bags of the trademark passive-aggressive ‘tude, it is a standout on the release and one of Tove Lo’s best songs to date, thanks in no small part to its featured artist.
Sunshine Kitty is hands down the most ‘Tove Lo’ Tove Lo has ever sounded, and it is plain to see that the niche she has carved for herself feels comfortable. There is some discordance between the seriousness of the song themes and the playful tone (particularly in the album title and use of txt speak in the track names), but these do serve to render the release more listenable than if they were only focused on the dour topics. Unfortunately, this tradeoff is a little jarring as every song on the album concerns either romance, relationship woes, or the anxiety of uncertainty. The discrepancy unfortunately cheapens the atmosphere overall, but the solid quality of the music on display more than compensates by way of its charm and alluring sentimentality. Ultimately, this is an album of tasteful moderation rather than of diluted attitude. There is nothing as aggressively sexual as ‘bitches’, but there is still plenty of frisky energy. There is nothing as heady and depressing as ‘Habits’, but there is more than enough heavy emotionality. Sunshine Kitty is brilliantly catchy, edgy without being too overt, and the most idealistic she has sounded since QotC. Thankfully, Tove has retained all the best aspects of the releases that came before, and yet the evolution is clear. On this very individual path, the songstress can only progress.