Album Review: Tove Lo – Dirt Femme

[Pretty Swede; 2022]

It’s not easy being an independent artist. The freedom of having no label to answer to often means there is a smaller publicity machine supporting your music, and therefore the pressure to prove yourself by the strength of your work grows immensely. Luckily, Tove Lo is an artist you can count on to go all in. In her fifth album Dirt Femme, inspired by reflections from her life as a pansexual singer, woman and wife, she brings the full intensity of her emotions while making music more club-ready than anything in her discography.

Opener “No One Dies From Love” readily dials the drama up to 11 as Lo sings that if love has killed no one then “guess I’ll be the first” while the bass pulsates under her. In “2 Die 4” she asks this killer love to “look alive and come with me” in pure, lustful disco passion. The listener is compelled to move not just by the intensity of the captivating production, but because moving with reckless abandon is the only appropriate way to respond to the wall of sound and emotion the artist exposes us to. Tove Lo brings in sheer emotion through every channel, even on the ballads which are a fixture of every pop album but often just filler. Though hardly a top-tier vocalist, in “True Romance” the singer uses the raw power of her voice to its fullest extent as she professes she’d “die for love and loyalty” in a truly moving performance. Lo has feelings to express, and subtlety is not in the cards.

Yet, even in her brashness, Tove Lo still finds a way to bring in intimacy and vulnerability. Over bouncy driving beats the tracks “Suburbia” and “Grapefruit” dive into the singer’s inner conflicts with dizzying intensity. In the former she pours her anxieties and contradictions to her partner, exclaiming “I never wanted marriage, but here I am with you”. Her conflictedness stays genuine as she never loses her anxious tension. In “Grapefruit”, the turmoil of an eating disorder is laid bare in a hit of emotionality and catchiness that makes for an album high point. Every element of lyrics and composition invites the listener to join the artist in her journey.

Lyrically and vocally, Tove Lo is up to the artistic endeavor she’s targeting, but the same can’t always be said of her musical avenue of choice. Dirt Femme is a pop record and the compositions can be a little too close to something you’ve heard before. “Cute & Cruel”, features the duo of fellow Swedes First Aid Kit and its plucked strings and harmonized musings about love it can’t escape the impression that they’ve been been done better somewhere else. “I’m To Blame” sees a bigger effort, blending acoustic and pop elements with a more intense vocal delivery, yet it doesn’t achieve much more than bringing memories of radio hits from back when Tove Lo’s career first started.

When she finds the right direction though, Tove Lo earns her place in the canon of the great Swedish pop song craftsmen. English producer SG Lewis’ festival-ready production, previously heard on Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, makes for a moment truly evocative of strobe lights in the energetic “Call on Me”. The singer and producer team up again and call to disco-era raunchiness in truly inspired fashion on “Pinneapple Slice”, while Tove Lo’s chosen dance anthem, the tongue-in-cheek “Attention Whore” offers a cartoonish and endearing depiction of American excess, laden with hooks. Even “How Long”, a song commissioned for the Euphoria soundtrack, doesn’t feel forced, as the show’s trademark moodiness marries perfectly with the singer’s brash emotionality.

Tove Lo was already beloved by the indie pop public, and now being fully independent she shows the makings of someone who will leave a true mark in that audience. Between her abilities to connect through her vulnerability, her catchy production or her voice, she can be relied on to keep the listener away from both the pause and skip buttons. Maybe in the future she’ll veer towards more conceptual and complex works, but if her path leads only to more music that provides her with emotional catharsis and her audience with material worth replaying a thousand times, then we’ve all only to gain.