Tove Styrke – Kiddo – Album review

John Preston

John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.
John Preston

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After Tove Styrke came third on Sweden’s Pop Idol, her self-titled debut album was rush released in late 2010. The record’s cover was a portrait of the young singer, impossibly blond and tousled, mouth open, heavily made-up and staring straight at us.

Tove Styrke kiddo]

Five years later and Kiddo has another face shot of the singer but she is now almost unrecognisable – in profile, almost sneering at us and make-up free, with her mouth firmly closed. That’s not to say that Tove Stryke has nothing to communicate – far from it in fact – and decisions regarding her physical appearance are irrelevant anyway. She’s a pop star and a very large, very important part of that involves artifice. It seems though that Styrke is now in a stronger position to control exactly what comes out of her mouth. The shift was inevitable and it suits her.

‘High and Low’ from Styrke’s very good debut showcased all that is perfect about contemporary and classic Swedish pop. Minor-key and melancholic but not morose and with a chorus that wildly lit-up all of those feel good receptors in your brain, and you could dance to it too.

The album played quite close to a synth-pop template, whilst accommodating particular electronic music trends prevalent at the time. Styrke sounded great, young and reckless but thoughtful. Kiddo, however, seems to feature more of Stryke somehow and as a performer she is now occupying space in a way that her debut didn’t allow her.

This is still a pop album but there is an aggression and assertiveness here – musically, lyrically and in Stryke’s performances – that gleefully dominates. Tracks as diverse as the playfully stomping ‘Even If I’m Loud It Doesn’t Mean I’m Talking to You’ and glam-rock electronic shuffle of ‘Ain’t Go No….’, which sounds like a track from Rachel Stevens’ cult-like album Come and Get It, have an altogether harder edge and a wilder spirit.

On the elastic ska bass line of ‘Borderline’ Styrke sings of compromised emotions, ‘I live my life in shackles but I’m borderline free’.

‘Decay’ melds dancehall and acid house with exceptional skill, especially the way its squelching instrumentation builds in the final minute, with both of these retro-genres appear frequently on Kiddo. ‘Snaren’ sounds like ‘Who’s That Girl?’-era Robyn and features a sly Beyonce homage and shout-out.

Kiddo‘s most uplifting moment is the part rapped ‘Number 1’ whilst ‘Work Song’ has a tremendous electro trust and ‘Brag’, with its steel drum rolls, is cute and masterful. ‘Walking A Line’ has piano chords and percussion that are reminiscent of Peter Bjorn and John’s work with Lykke Li and ‘Burn’ features a skittering trap beat and Styrke’s uncompromising attitude.

It’s only on ‘Who’s Got News’ and ‘Samurai Boy’ that Stryke tries too hard to incorporate musical styles that hasn’t yet fully mastered. The only real ballad on the album, ‘Who’s Got News’ is a muffled and swamped ode to alienation and ‘Samurai Boy’ is a relentless, near industrial and part rave track which was originally featured on the ‘Borderline’ EP of last year. It’s underdeveloped and less tunefully competent than the other, newer tracks featured here.

These are minor gripes though and ‘Kiddo’ has at least eight intriguing, solid tracks that prove Tove Styrke is a talented songwriter (she co-wrote the entire album). Tove has found a voice and style that has propelled her into the upper ranks of her most assured contemporaries.

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