The cover photo of Tove Lo’s sophomore effort is a close-up of the Swedish singer’s ringed fingers provocatively tugging on her denim shorts and exposing her navel, a clear homage to the front of Madonna’s Like a Prayer LP. But while Tove Lo, née Nilsson, has cited the Queen of Pop as an influence, any obvious likeness to Madonna’s 1989 opus—or any other album by the Material Girl for that matter—ends there. Lady Wood is wed to modern pop trends, and to the extent that the album does make nods to ’80s music, like the new wave-infused “True Disaster,” those gestures are filtered through a patently contemporary lens a la Taylor Swift’s 1989.
Whereas Nilsson’s 2014 debut, Queen of the Clouds, was divided into three easily digestible themed parts (sex, love, pain), Lady Wood is split between two comparatively opaque, less immediately relatable halves marked by the short interludes “Fairy Dust” and “Fire Fade.” The first half indulges in the rush of newfound lust, embodied by the substance-induced euphoria of “Influence,” featuring a breathless verse by Wiz Khalifa, and “Lady Wood,” which suggests a woman’s arousal is just as physically potent as a man’s, even if she lacks the physical apparatus implied by the song’s title. The second half of the album examines the impact of celebrity on the resulting relationship, with the singer frankly confessing, “You think I’m surrounded/But, babe, I do most of this alone,” on the somber, self-deprecating “Flashes.”
Queen of the Clouds was bright and playful, with a focus on big, bold hooks; from the title track’s subtle tribal percussion to the Middle Eastern-influenced rhythms of lead single “Cool Girl,” Lady Wood’s sleek minimalist pop is, like that of Lorde or Banks, less stylistically varied and more interested in creating a mood. This results in music that, like lyrics about the perils of fame, keeps its audience at a bit of a remove. But Lady Wood is admirably lean and tightly focused, and though it doesn’t boast confessionals on the order of Like a Prayer’s, it offers a peek inside the psyche of a smart, burgeoning young star.