Review: Tove Lo Shares Lighthearted Confidence On ‘Sunshine Kitty’
Since breaking into the scene with Queen Of The Clouds in 2014, Tove Lo has forged a unique style and presence in pop music. Her new album, Sunshine Kitty, doesn’t stray from her signature style, but it does add new elements to it. It’s a blend that makes the album at once familiar to Tove’s fans and new enough to bring new intrigue. Tove switches things up musically, introducing more acoustic guitar and some childlike sounds whens she’s not serving up her synth-based pop bangers. But Sunshine Kitty also follows the lyrical bluntness and themes of her first three records, even if they often come from a lighter or even happier place.
The music is the most notably different aspect on Sunshine Kitty. It’s still ear-candy pop, built on catchy hooks and sing-along vocals. But the instrumental sound here is often lighter and more acoustic-based. Songs like “Glad He’s Gone” and “Bad As The Boys” are rooted in guitar, sounding airy and summery – perfect, since they were put out in the warm months leading up to the album release. Later in Sunshine Kitty, more of the synth-based music we’ve come to expect dominates, but even that tries on new vibes. Some songs take us to European clubs circa 1995; others take us to a Caribbean island or into Brazil. The music is a little bit international… just like the numerous guest artists. (Sunshine Kitty boasts five collaborations, far more than Tove’s previous albums.)
On “Are U Gonna Tell Her?”, Tove sings alongside Brazilian artist MC Zaac; his parts are sung entirely in Portuguese. On “Jacques,” guest artist Jax Jones – himself English – poses as the titular French man. Other guest artists here include Finnish singer ALMA, Australian star Kylie Minogue, and American rapper Doja Cat.
In a more unexpected twist, much of the music on Sunshine Kitty takes on a youthful soundscape. “Sweettalk My Heart” builds on a childlike music box tinkle; lead single “Glad He’s Gone” sounds young, though less obviously so. The repeated sonic references to childhood work seamlessly with the animated cat on the album cover. Our cute Sunshine Kitty mascot drives home the vibe.
Even so, that childish sound is generally at odds with Tove’s lyrics. Never one to shy away from taboo subjects or turns of phrase, Tove’s lyrics are as direct as ever. Usual fare for her, Tove swears on several tracks and references substance use on others. She unabashedly sings about sex, anything from one-night-stands to degrading acts with a lame partner. All in all, despite the youthful energy of some songs and the appealing pop sound of the whole album, Tove’s music is often adult-themed. It’s an interesting dichotomy that’s starker here than ever before.
Perhaps the most distinct characteristic of Sunshine Kitty, though, is how airy it is. Whether it’s a summery guitar-based single or a club banger for the night, the music is generally light. The songs seem to come from a happier place, not treading into the darker and sadder moments as often. Tove sounds stronger and more confident here, and it shows how much she’s evolved since her first album.
Sunshine Kitty is a good album that stands well with Tove Lo’s previous records. It’s not as instant, but given a few extra listens, the songs grow better and better, and they prove to be of consistent quality across the record. Sunshine Kitty is an album that is fun to listen to and easy to enjoy, and its songs will stay in your head long after the album has reached its last song.
Track by Track
“Gritty Pretty (Intro)” – As with Tove Lo’s first three albums, Sunshine Kitty opens with an introduction. “Gritty Pretty” opens with the gentle acoustic guitar of “Glad He’s Gone,” but a phone message beep interrupts things. A man named Mateo – we’ll hear more about him later in the album! – shares a slightly crude message in Italian about his decision to break up with Uma. The track moves seamlessly into “Glad He’s Gone,” where we’ll hear Tove celebrate Uma’s breakup with the lame Mateo.
“Glad He’s Gone” – The first song we heard from Sunshine Kitty, “Glad He’s Gone” was released as its lead single on May 31, 2019. In contrast to Tove’s previous singles, “Glad He’s Gone” is a softer, breezy summer song. Throughout the lyrics, Tove comforts her broken-hearted friend who just got out of a relationship. But instead of feeling sad, Tove encourages her friend to be happy, saying that the ex-boyfriend was a tool and not good enough for her. Indeed, she’s better off without him. The song has a chill, acoustic vibe, offset by the squeaky titular refrain bookending the chorus. It’s a relatable, charming song that previews a different vibe for the fourth album.
“Bad As The Boys” feat. ALMA – We got “Bad As The Boys” as the second single in early August. Like the previous track, this song is based more on acoustic guitar than Tove’s earlier music. But this time, the song is less chill and more tense, with a fast strum running under the verses. It gives the song a latin vibe and extra energy. Lyrically, we explore a relationship Tove had with a woman that, sadly, didn’t work out. Tove, herself a bisexual woman, laments that her ex-girlfriend was as bad as the boys, and the breakup with her hurts as much as breakups with ex-boyfriends. (For her part, Alma has identified as gay.) Tove and Alma each take a verse, though their voices are so well matched that you may have a hard time telling who’s who!
“Sweettalk My Heart” – “Sweettalk My Heart” is a special song on Sunshine Kitty. Tove has stated that it was the first song she wrote for the album, and it helped forge the direction the new music would go in. Today, in conjunction with the album release, Tove shared “Sweettalk My Heart” as a single and dropped its accompanying music video. This is perhaps the most instantly infectious single from Sunshine Kitty so far. It starts off delicate, set against music box simplicity, but the chorus soars into something anthemic. This warm love song is raw in its emotions, yet completely relatable and made for an audience to sing along.
“Stay Over” – One of our favorites on the album, “Stay Over” starts off deceptively small. It opens on a bubbling synth, Tove singing about a birthday kiss she’s received. As the verse closes, ticking percussion builds up the energy, leading to a banging chorus of subtly skittering synths and a low beat. Tove describes a casual relationship and her desire to take it to a new level. They’re bending the rules anyway, and she’s ready for something more. It’s an infectious song and one of the highlights on Sunshine Kitty.
“Are U Gonna Tell Her?” feat. MC Zaac – “Are U Gonna Tell Her?” builds around a frenzied synth riff, and MC Zaac’s occasional high-registered interjections add tension. Tove sings the first verse, describing her desire to be with this guy. She sings with MC Zaac on the onomatopoeia-ridden pre-chorus, then Tove croons a delicate chorus. But its lyrics present the shame: they’ve hooked up, but he has a girlfriend… will he confess that he cheated? MC Zaac sings the second verse entirely in Portuguese, describing Tove as dangerous. It’s a brief but hypnotic track.
“Jacques” feat. Jax Jones – The third song we heard from the album was “Jacques,” released late in August. Although Tove is Swedish and Jax is English, their new song takes its influences from France. It’s an electro-house track about a one-night stand with a French man. While Tove plays herself in the lyrics, Jax takes on the character of Jacques. The flirty words – complete with exclamations of “oh la la la” – match the vibe of the music perfectly. In contrast to Tove’s first two singles, this one sounds more like her previous work.
“Mateo” – Compared to the previous seven tracks, “Mateo” is the first that comes close to being a ballad. The escalating vocal riff and production come off as more energized, but Tove paints an image of a man she perceives as out of her league. A pre-chorus about pretty girls moves the song in a moodier direction. It then launches into a chorus calling out to the man Tove longs for, the vocal melody taking on a Latin flavor. It’s an emotional, mid-tempo ballad. But if the “Gritty Pretty” intro was any indication, maybe Mateo isn’t worth her time after all?
“Come Undone” – Next is a low-key, tropical track, defined by its fluttering flute-like vocal melody set against a low hum. Tove describes a tentative relationship with someone, asking, “Do you love me?” On the chorus, Tove wonders what it is about this person that makes her feel so emotional. An unexpected piano breakdown in the bridge amplifies the song further, giving it intriguing dynamism. It’s a tender and light song that anyone who’s unsure how a love interest feels can relate to.
“Equally Lost” feat. Doja Cat – “Equally Lost” is a short and tropical highlight on Sunshine Kitty. Tove sings of being lonely until someone catches her eye. She aims to charm her and dance all night. Because as she sings on the chorus, they’re both just lost and looking for a good time, and being together makes her feel less down. Doja Cat comes in for the second verse, rapping her acquiescence but saying this relationship won’t be anything serious or long-lasting. It’s just a fun summer fling.
“Really Don’t Like You” feat. Kylie Minogue – We just got this as the fourth single a couple of weeks ago. “Really Don’t Like U” is a synth-driven dance pop song, infectious music masking the jealousy of its lyrics. On the first verse and chorus, Tove describes a beautiful woman, but she’s with the guy that Tove wants back. Tove complains that this other girl is prettier than her and that she makes it hard for her to enjoy the party. Kylie takes over on the second verse, hitting home with her admittance that it’s “hard to be fair to you when I got my heart broke.” Throughout the song, Tove and Kylie concede that their bad feelings are misplaced, and yet logic can’t control the heart. It’s a sugary song that most people can relate to.
“Shifted” – One of the best songs on Sunshine Kitty is “Shifted.” It opens over a low bubbling synth, drums joining in as Tove starts crooning over the top. It stays calm as she describes a conflict of opinion between herself and her mom, but as we get to the pre-chorus, acoustic guitar lends a darker tone. The guitar drops away for as the chorus starts, Tove declaring that she’s done putting in work for this one-sided love! The guitar returns for the end of the chorus, bringing its eerie vibe with it. “Shifted” is cool and subtle, but it turns into a rage-filled bop for us all to sing along to.
“Mistaken” – Another highlight on the album is “Mistaken,” the truest ballad here. Retro synths and handclaps open the track before Tove’s voice comes in. The first word of each line is filtered in a descending riff, downplaying the weight of the lyrics. Lilting falsetto about being trapped in her own head transitions us to the chorus. This is where the song really hits, as Tove wonders whether her current beau prefers how his ex kissed him. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking song of jealousy and self-doubt.
“Anywhere U Go” – Sunshine Kitty closes with “Anywhere U Go,” a song that fades in quietly. Muffled drums chug underneath as Tove sings about her own darkness and feeling that she’s lost in life. But then it grows into a weightless, freeing pre-chorus about traveling around the world to be with someone you love. Finally the chorus breaks in, a tropical ode to deep dives and beachside thrills. It’s a ride from melancholy loneliness to a carefree, happy life. It’s a great transformative note on which to end the album.
Sunshine Kitty Score: 4/5
Highlights on Sunshine Kitty include: “Glad He’s Gone,” “Sweettalk My Heart,” “Stay Over,” “Come Undone,” “Equally Lost” featuring Doja Cat, “Shifted,” and “Mistaken.”
You can stream or buy Sunshine Kitty at all the major music providers here.