Sweden’s Tove Lo has already released the EP of the year in ‘Truth Serum’, a collection of searingly honest love songs. Now she’s gone one step further with the release of her debut album, ‘Queen of the Clouds’. It’s a concept album that depicts the rise, the euphoria and the fall of a relationship through some of the best pop tracks of the year. In her hands, pop is far from unintelligent.
The sound is fairly typical for 2014 Swedish pop – by no means a criticism. A heavy dose of synths mixed with a handful of live instruments contribute to an exceedingly high level of polish, each track jam-packed with catchy melodies and hooks. There’s plenty of variety too, from menacing opener My Gun, to the exhilarating Katy Perry-esque Timebomb, the haunting dub-step of The Way That I Am, and the melancholic dance-pop of lead single Habits (Stay High). That’s not to mention all the little touches: the clicking gun shots of My Gun; the buoyant backing vocals of Like Em Young; the earth-shattering drums in the chorus of Timebomb; the whizzing synths of Not on Drugs, just to name a handful. Lo may not be pushing the boundaries of pop music with the production, but it’s all incredibly well executed, with a bright and brilliant sound and constant sense of urgency that’s accessible, radio friendly and hugely satisfying to listen to.
That said, it’s with the lyrics that Lo reveals her talents. She’s not afraid to tackle the darker, psychological aspects of modern love that most pop tracks shy away from and that’s what makes her a masterful songwriter. Sung in her gritty and raw vocal, each song explores different moments of a relationship with stark, brutal honesty. Despite the aggressive My Gun, the opening few tracks are generally a light-hearted view of seeking love: the bubbly comedy of Like Em Young, the fizzing and sexual Talking Body (“if you love me right, we f*ck for life”) and the headrush of Timebomb with its rambling verses and punchy chorus. Yet on Moments, relationships aren’t all they’re cracked up to be: “I’m not the prettiest you’ve ever seen, but I have my moments…on good days I am charming as f*ck”. That continues with The Way That I Am: “I’m falling in love and I hope that you want me the way that I am”. In Lo’s view, love isn’t a fairytale – this is an album based on truth and reality. Got Love may have fantastical lyrics (“we live like legends now”), but even on Not on Drugs the high of love is in doubt (“Baby listen please, I’m not on drugs…I’m just in love”).
It’s with pain that Lo truly stretches her songwriting muscles though, with an uncanny ability to capture heartbreak through simple and direct lyrics. “That’s when I run all of these thousand miles to get you back”, she sings in desperation on Thousand Miles; Habits (Stay High) is a crippling depiction of despondency; and This Time Around is a cold and empty reflection of lost love (“bodies growing colder with the distance now…thought you’d make me feel it”). ‘Queen of the Clouds’ is not an album that ends with hope; played on repeat it creates an endless cycle of turbulent, failing relationships.
That juxtaposition of melancholy and euphoria is what Swedish songwriters do best, but Tove Lo is essentially the best popstar to come out of the country since Robyn. Like a passionate love affair, this debut is fairly short, full of life, and oh so very sweet.
* Talking Body
* Not on Drugs
Listen: ‘Queen of the Clouds’ is available now across most of the world, with a UK release coming next year.