There’s something in the Swedish air that ignites masterful pop craftsmanship; it’s as if every speaker at their elementary schools wafts ABBA through the air, part subliminal messaging, part gentle nudging of future careers. Swedish singers and writers like Tove Lo, Zara Larsson, Robyn, and producers like Max Martin have been some of the pioneers of a sophisticated pop movement, and Tove Styrke’s newest album, HARD, continues to add solid hits into the pool.
Sex and love dominates the record — the album title comes from “Hardcore,” when, in an insanely believable vocal performance, she sings/shouts, “Go make my heart explode / I want you hardcore.” The song acts as a climax for the album; the sweetly sung verses are interrupted by seismic beats you can’t not focus on.
Songs like “Lies,” over bouncy instrumentals, look past the cracks in relationships, saying, “We’re too good to be true / I need you, honestly / Don’t care ’bout honesty / Say I’m the one for you.” The next song, “Free,” tells the opposite story about an ex-partner whose games were too much for her: “I just wanna be free / Keep your troubles, keep your secrets a long way from me.” Putting the two next to each other signifies how pop music is often about split decisions, but is also a wink at her personality.
The only time the subject matter gets too repetitive is on “24H,” a song whose ideas can probably be guessed from the title (but in case you can’t, she sings, “Ooh, I, I need you today / And the day after”). The instrumental is catchy, but isn’t wildly different or inventive enough to prop the song up. A shift comes with “Millennial Blues,” which shows she can write efficiently about mature topics as well. Part apology, part lament, she expresses her dissatisfaction at her personal habits, but the situation that might have facilitated it (“Over sleepin’, over shoppin’ / And I wish I could buy my mama a house / If I wanted to”).
Two of the most radio-friendly songs showcase her ability to produce hooky earworms; “Start Walking,” an upbeat and glittery song about an impasse boasts, “We’re starin’ at the problem / But somebody’s gotta start / Walking” over a slight vocoder. “YouYouYou” isn’t the most lyrically inventive (“I’m in love with someone new / Still I’m dreaming about you”) but switches up the production in the second verse to match her dreamy, wishfully thinking lyrics.
HARD is solid, a good offering in the musical landscape during a year when bona fide pop hits have been scarce. Even if nothing comes to fruition in terms of chart placements, it’s still a quick offering of songs likely to please old and new listeners alike.
Order HARD by Tove Stryke HERE