TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Our rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the debut album by a Swedish singer-songwriter in her '20s. Her name is Tove Lo. She's scoring hits in this country that mix dance-club pop with rock soulfulness. The album is called "Queen Of The Clouds."
(SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED TOVE LO SONG)
TOVE LO: (Singing) I used to take your breath away. I used to make you laugh about anything. I used to be your getaway. Your getaway, your dream, I was everything you needed.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Listening to Tove Lo, you get the sense that she's fully alive to the feelings of young love, of new relationships, of how a love affair can go wrong. She made her initial impact with a couple of hit singles. The first, "Habits (Stay High)" is about experiencing a heartbreak so severe, the singer wants to numb herself out to avoid feeling more pain.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HABITS (STAY HIGH)")
LO: (Singing) I eat my dinner in my bathtub. Then I go to sex clubs watching freaky people getting it on. It doesn't make me nervous. If anything, I'm restless. Yeah I've been around and I've seen it all. I get home I've got the munchies, binge on all my Twinkies, throw up in the tub, then I go to sleep. And I drank up all my money, day's been kind of lonely.
You're gone and I've got to stay high all the time to keep you off my mind. High all the time to keep you off my mind. Spend my days locked in a haze trying to forget you babe, I'll fall back down. Got to stay high all my life to forget I'm missing you.
TUCKER: It's clear that Tove Lo was trying to convey a certain state of mind with that tune. But of course, its details about dissolute behavior frequently dominated discussion of the song, to the point where she decided her follow-up would be titled "Not On Drugs." She is nothing if not adamant and precise.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOT ON DRUGS")
LO: (Singing) Shiny, happy, see my world in new colors. Higher, firefly my rocket through universe. I'm up with the kites in a dream so blue. I live in the sky. You can live here too. I'm queen of the clouds. Make my wish come true. I sing to the night. Let me sing to you. Baby, listen please. I'm not on drugs. I'm not on drugs. I'm just in love. Baby don't you see, I'm not on drugs, I'm not on drugs. I'm just in love.
TUCKER: While her initial success came from first writing pop singles for other artists and then moody dance-pop songs for herself, Tove is old-fashioned to this extent. Unlike many performers now, she still values the album format, the kind of narrative arc one can develop over the course of an array of sequenced compositions. Thus, "Queen Of The Clouds" is a kind of concept album, chronicling the stages of a love affair divided into three sections or movements titled "The Sex," "The Love" and "The Pain." The young author has a knack for capturing the thoughts of the romantic mind in a delightfully wordy, evocative song such as "Timebomb."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIMEBOMB")
LO: (Singing) You made your way in as I was leaving, you cut in line just as I was getting my stuff and I couldn't decide if you were the most annoying human being I'd ever met, which is the best thing that ever happened, just the best thing that ever happened. You took the key out of the ignition. I could hear the rain on the windows. Right then and there I made up my mind to just go with it. Think it was the worst thing that could happen and the worst thing that could happen could be the best thing ever. We're not forever. You're not the one. We're not forever. You're not the one. We're not forever. You're not the one. You and I could be the best thing ever. We'll live happily ever after forever. We don't got what it takes and we don't make plans 'cause we're never going to last. We're not forever. You're not the one. You and I, we're a time bomb. Bomb, bomb, bomb. bomb. Bomb, bomb, bomb. We're not forever. You're not the one. You and I, we're a time bomb.
TUCKER: Working with producers who frequently include the duo that calls itself The Struts, Tove surrounds her voice with various keyboards and percussion sounds that form those familiar pulsating rhythms we've heard at least as far back as disco.
And like a lot of disco acts, it's easy to be distracted by the beat if you're a fan of this kind of music, or irritated by it if you're not. Either way, Tove Lo deserves credit for the tart realism of her lyrics and the subtle imagination of the music encasing her words. She may have fallen in and out of love, but she was busy taking notes as she did and what she salvaged from the wreckage of romance was all this.
GROSS: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviewed Tove Lo's debut album, "Queen Of The Clouds."
Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews Hilary Mantel's new collection of short stories. This is FRESH AIR.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.