Monday, November 20, 2017

Blue Lips | Tove Lo

Earlier this fall, Tove Lo prefaced her newest album with a seven-minute music video that predominantly features very detailed sex scenes with a bargain brand Muppet on acid. The track it was produced for, "Disco Tits," is a banging neo-'90s house track that, while largely a harmless earworm, boasts a few one-liners delivered like nails across a chalkboard. (For future reference, Tove, any mention of nipples is probably a no-go.) It all had us wondering if Tove Lo is okay – in less of a 2007 Britney Spears way and more of a 2013 Lady Gaga way, when creativity takes an absurd form – until we took a hard look at her path to her third studio album, Blue Lips.

Twinkies in the bathtub, daddies on the playground, and freaky people in sex clubs – that was Lo's introduction four years ago when "Habits (Stay High)" ignited in America. So when her second studio album came in the form of a sleek dance-pop record titled Lady Wood, with a title track as outwardly sexual as one could expect, it shouldn't have come as a surprise. While Lo developed an understated cool presence between her debut, Queen of the Clouds, and Lady Wood, her vernacular further regressed. Even the term "lady wood" in and of itself is cringeworthy to a degree.

In that sense, conditions don't improve much on Blue Lips, marketed as the second phase of Lady Wood. Though its title implies lack of sexual satisfaction, it tells quite a different story in its 14 tracks – a tale of a woman's sexual liberation with good intent but without any sort of elegance. "They can't fake it, drying off the seat when they getting up to leave," she sings on "Bitches," a smug, sexy track that explores her bisexuality. (Really, not a track goes by that doesn't reference wetness, bodily fluid, sweat, oral sex, or climaxing.) And like the "WTF Love Is" and "Vibes" of Lady Wood, "Struggle" is the trend-term track of Blue Lips: "Fuck, fuck some sense into me. The struggle is real when you don't tell me how you feel about this love."

But luckily, her knack for slick, attention-grabbing production and cutting melody lines has managed to hypnotize listeners yet again on Blue Lips. The record is more aggressively catchy than her previous releases, grinding into sharp house beats and humid guitar lines. "I'm the queen of the motherfucking discotheque," she declares on introductory interlude "Light Beams," before the record throws itself onto the dance floor (and into the bedroom of another one night stand). The first seven tracks, all hyperactive and hypersexual, match her black-lit ecstasy, yanking listeners into the clouds with her. "Disco Tits" and "Shedontknowbutsheknows" sputter and spasm with heavy electronics, while guitars and clipped beats kick "Stranger" alive. Even "Bitches," in all of its raunchy glory, keeps me coming back for listen after listen.

The album's back half, informally titled by minute-long interlude "Pitch Black," keeps in touch with the first half's sonic palette but takes to midtempo speed as it comes down from her frantic rush. "If it was easy, I'd forget about you, baby, but I never really understood how people can move on from a heart to love another. Oh, if I could, I would," she sings on the effortlessly smooth chorus of "Bad Days," an in memoriam of her recent wild nights. The album's finale, meanwhile, seems to recap how the insane two-album narrative began: "Hey, you got drugs? Just need a pick-me-up only for tonight. Don’t tell anyone I was with you," she repeats on power ballad "Hey You Got Drugs?" 

The story arc that carries from Lady Wood comes to a close nicely on Blue Lips – first with one last streak of destruction then with a crash-landing into reality. Along the way, though, we get lost in Lo's overt drive to be as sexual as possible. (If the album's title and ass-grabbing album artwork didn't let you in on it already, Tove Lo is really just all about sex and she wants you to know it right now.) But goddamn it, we get lost for a reason: Because Tove Lo knows how to make a frank, trashy, infectious banger. Sometimes it's hard to believe that she's so outrageous – again, not 2004 Britney Spears outrageous; it's more like a 2015 CupcakKe outrageous – but we all keep singing about our nipples and repeating our new favorite dirty Fifth Harmony reference alongside her anyway.

Blue Lips is available now under Island Records.

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