Friday, September 20, 2019

Review: Sunshine Kitty • Tove Lo

Tove Lo has never played by the rules. In fact, there’s a pretty good chance that she doesn’t know that rules exist. Surprisingly, that’s worked quite well for her: After she hit American radio by way of the drug-induced, Twinkie-binged "Habits," she became known as pop music’s freaky cousin who flashes her nipples to festival crowds and hallucinates with a cheap puppet on the music video set for a throbbing banger called "Disco Tits." She loves to be messy – intensely so – which might be why her fourth record, Sunshine Kitty, is somewhat perplexing.

Ditching the dark, saturated electronics of her past records and reiterating her sexuality in slightly less abrasive terms, Sunshine Kitty is by far Tove Lo’s most calculated career move. It listens like the third cousin, twice removed, of a trip-tropical record – a popular aesthetic choice for folks on the EDM music festival circuit, where you can catch a headliner or two eating ass from their soundboard on stage. But in all fairness, it's the table where Lo probably belongs – the high-voltage culture of the EDM community lends itself better to her uncontrollable spirit.

Sunshine Kitty has the potential to go somewhere bigger... but in the interest of splitting mainstream appeal and streaming allure, it chooses just to stay put. Despite her history with stellar, overblown choruses and strong lyrical themes of hopeless attraction and insatiable desire, Lo lets most of her climaxes flat-line on the record: She truly lets us have it only on "Stay Over," as her smoker's husk slides around bubbling rhythm and bass, and "Jacques," a turbo-charged Jax Jones collaboration. Tracks like "Mateo" and "Are U Gonna Tell Her?" carry on perfectly fine, even if there's a touch of something missing – whether that's more production beneath her or some fine-tuning in the songwriting, it's hard to say.

And actually, that statement can be applied to most of the record: The Kylie Minogue feature is a post-Robyn gem, "Sweettalk My Heart" builds to a little bombast, and "Bad as the Boys" with ALMA is a summery jam. There is no doubt that Tove Lo is a proficient pop songwriter: The cuts here are strong enough to merit returned listens, but not outright obsession. Sunshine Kitty is more sterile and less immediately gratifying than expected for a Tove Lo record – perhaps most notably on lead single "Glad He's Gone," which must simmer for a while before its melody lodges itself into memory, and closing note "Anywhere U Go." It's clear that all the elements are present to boost Sunshine Kitty from a fine record to an absolute wildfire – all the elements, that is, except the daring spark.

Sunshine Kitty is available now under Island Records.

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