Tove Lo has never been one to play by the rules. The Swedish singer-songwriter’s breakout hit, “Habits (Stay High)” (2013), introduced a style of pop that had little precedent on American Top 40 radio as Tove sang about the need to numb her emotional pain via substances and partying. The track’s dark chorus is built around this theme, yet it also contains the repetition of a catchy “Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh,” making for an eerie listening and sing-along experience. With “Habits (Stay High)” becoming a sleeper hit, reaching number three on the Hot 100 over a year after its release, Tove had succeeded in leaving her mark on pop radio, and she cemented her status with the release of follow-up single “Talking Body” (2014), which showcased a sexy, tongue-in-cheek side to the Swedish star.
For the follow-up to her stellar debut, “Queen of the Clouds” (2014), Tove had her work cut out for her in order to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. In an interview with music site Stereogum, Tove said this about the making of her second album: “If [Queen of the Clouds] was all about being vulnerable and crazy when it comes to love, passion, [then] this is tying that story together with the other parts of my life, which is performing and being onstage and those kinds of rushes. And then just any kind of high, whether it’s drugs or not.”
“Lady Wood,” which was released on Oct. 28, captures much of the boldness that made Tove’s debut such a thrill to listen to. Tove once more manages to craft high-quality pop by working with the collaborators from “Queen of the Clouds” — mainly production duo The Struts. Lyrically, “Lady Wood” explores much of the same territory she mined on her debut, yet it embraces a style of pop that is woozy and almost relaxing compared to the arresting, explosive songs of her first LP. This change in sonic direction simultaneously updates Tove’s sound for a Top 40 radio landscape under the thumb of The Weeknd and The Chainsmokers and adds an edginess to her already razor-sharp wit and propensity for emotional turmoil.
Tove’s sophomore album retains the same interlude structure from “Queen of the Clouds,” with the first section, “Fair Dust,” focusing on the crazy high one gets from love and the second, “Fire Fade,” detailing the comedown from said high. The record’s title track is wholly indicative of the former because it acts as a rather apt metaphor for female horniness. “Lady Wood” successfully fuses Tove’s synthpop inclinations with the dance rhythms that can be found throughout the album, especially as she whirls through lines like “I want you, I want you hanging with me.”
Yet, it is the lead single “Cool Girl” that represents something of the heart of the record as the song demonstrates Tove’s knack for addictive choruses and exploration of chilled-out dance music. The track was inspired by the now famous line from thriller “Gone Girl” (2014), in which the titular girl, Amy Dunne, talks about being a cool girl for her husband. However, Tove’s take on the line is dripping with sarcasm as she mockingly sings, “I’m a cool girl, I’m a, I’m a cool girl / Ice cold, I roll my eyes at you, boy” over a house-inspired baseline. The track feels relatively unassuming over the course of its approximately three-minute runtime, which in part contributes to its brilliance, as Tove never sounds out of place over its dark techno groove.
Other highlights from the record include “True Disaster” and “WTF Love Is,” which represent two very different aspects of the record. “True Disaster” embraces a style of 1980s synthpop that feels remarkably similar to “Style” from Taylor Swift’s “1989” (2014). However, Tove’s interpretation of this style adds an aggressiveness that can be felt in the unrelenting march of the track’s synths and a chorus centered upon this fatalistic attraction of “Keep playing my heartstrings faster and faster / You can be just what I want, my true disaster.” In the more dance-inspired “WTF Love Is,” Tove closes out the album in angry, defeated manner as she fires back, “Then what the fuck do you think love is?”
Over the course of its relatively lean 12 tracks, “Lady Wood” never fails to impress, offering a listening experience that is engaging in its exploration of love and pain. Tove has successfully managed to avoid the oft-dreaded sophomore slump, proving she is in it for the long haul to redefine Top 40 radio.