Tove Lo – Lady Wood (Album Review)

Tove Lo may have some habits that she is more than willing to share with the world. That said, on her sophomore release, Lady Wood, she would much rather focus on being a young woman searching for love in the club – but drugs are still cool, too.

Born Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson, Tove Lo – a Swedish singer and songwriter – was given her lifelong nickname/stage-name by her godmother when she was just three years-old. After the demise of her first band, Lo received a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music in 2011. She began to independently record and release her compositions around this time, and in 2014, she progressed to the majors and signed to Island Records.

Rising to Pop fame with the release of her debut album, Queen of the Clouds peaked at No. 14 on the U.S. Billboard 200 in October 2014. At the Swedish Grammis Awards in 2015, Lo won for Artist of the Year and Song of the Year for “Habits (Stay High).” In addition to her solo work, Lo has co-written a number of songs for other singers, including Hilary Duff’s “Sparks” and Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do.” She has collaborated with Coldplay, Flume, Nick Jonas, Adam Lambert, Girls Aloud, Wiz Khalifa, Icona Pop, and many others.

In the first minute of her very first single, Lo mentions sex clubs and getting high. How does one even attempt to follow this up? Her second studio album, Lady Wood, was released on October 28, 2016. A huge success in her homeland, the album went No. 1 in Sweden, and landed in the Top Ten albums chart in nearby Norway. Here in the United States, Lady Wood has, thus far, peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard 200.

The album is said to be split into two chapters – “Fairy Dust” and “Fire Fade” – with hopes that Lo’s third studio album, due next year – will contain Chapters 3 and 4. Lo co-wrote all twelve tracks on the record, and collaborated with guest Vocalists Wiz Khalifa and Joe Janiak. She also worked with three different producers – Rickard Göransson, Joel Little, and Ilya Salmanzadeh – throughout the recording of the disc.

The one minute intro, “Fairy Dust,” cracks open the album like a can, pouring a drink that invites us into this second Tove Lo offering. The real music begins with “Influence,” a banal Dance-Pop track complete with typical Rap breakdown (provided by guest Rapper Wiz Khalifa). The lyrics dance around the topic of being under the influence, life being a blur, and how we might not be our best selves in these moments.

Title track “Lady Wood” is a risque Dance track intended for clubs, where the sexual turn-around in the lyrics will be a big hit with modern ladies. “I know what people say about you, they say the same about me. I don’t care if it’s all true, I want you hangin’ with me,” confesses Lo. “You give me wood, give me lady wood.” Lo is definitely not the first gal to get a girly-boner and she won’t be the last; although she might be the only woman to turn it into a Pop song.

Released in November 2016 as the album’s second single/video – the true gem of this half of the album – “True Disaster” is Lo’s reminder that pretty girls love bad boys – especially on the dance floor – even if we know that our hearts do not stand a chance. She is coined a truly catchy chorus here: “Keep playing my heartstrings faster and faster, you can be just what I want: my true disaster.”

“Cool Girl” is the album’s first single/video, and a poor selection. Lyrically, Lo tries to convince us that ‘cool girls’ don’t put a label on their relationships, they just keep them fun. She and the song are just not convincing: cool girls don’t dance to “Cool Girls.” Sorry. (Although, “Cool Girl” reached No. 15 in Sweden and No. 84 on the Billboard Hot 100.)

The final song in this chapter, “Vibes,” shows some real musicianship in its introduction, though, yet again, the lyrics fall entirely flat. In yet another song about drug use, Lo coos, “Dreamer, tripping on your highs, feeling all the vibes” and is joined by guest Vocalist Joe Janiak.

Chapter II of Lady Wood, “Fire Fade,” is the far superior collection of songs. Here is where Lo experiments with more serious lyrics and more poignant topics, she steps off the dance floor and away from the bong to share something more. “Don’t Talk About It” moves us right into this serious side of Lo; a catchy song about how we tend to sweep everything under the carpet and ignore it, creating picture perfect lives that are merely a facade. It is an enviable attempt from Lo that, with some maturity and time, could produce some truly amazing, intelligent Pop music.

“We want big things but they make us small,” admits Lo in “Imaginary Friend.” A song about how reality sucks and sometimes we need a pick-me-up. Songs like this show Lo’s ability to truly sing something more passionate than just the next club remix. She ends the personal track with a spoken word reminder to herself to not be afraid. In this world of haters, we all could use a friend every now and then – imaginary or otherwise.

“Flashes” is an equally intriguing offering, a lyrical letter back home to let everyone know that, yes, Lo fucks up sometimes. We all fuck up sometimes. This ballad proclaims that we all make mistakes – especially those that, like Lo, are in the media spotlight. “When I fuck things up in front of camera flashes, what about you?” Lo inquires. She is not perfect, but neither are any of us.

“Shake your head, you don’t believe this. Then WTF do you think love is?” inquires Lo on the album’s final track. It is a weak track about love, and it is a poor ending to a disjointed album. Which is not to suggest that Lo does not have talent: she absolutely does. Her voice can sail and she clearly has the ability to craft a catchy Pop tune. On Lady Wood, she simply fails at taking any real chances, musically speaking, and by lyrically beating a dead horse over and over.

Lady Wood is, unfortunately, a mostly standard collection of Dance-Pop. Fortunately, there are moments of beautiful, soaring vocals and intelligent lyrics which show hope for future Tove Lo releases. Perhaps Lady Wood merely falls prey to a simple pitfall: the wandering mind of a beautiful, young woman with the Pop world at her feet. For its inconsistency and excessive bogarting of illegal substances, CrypticRock gives Tove Lo’s Lady Wood 3 out of 5 stars.

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