Album Review: MØ’s ‘Forever Neverland’
A lot has changed since MØ (real name Karen Ørsted) dropped her debut LP, No Mythologies To Follow, in 2014. For starters, she landed arguably the biggest hit of 2015 as the voice of Major Lazer & DJ Snake’s “Lean On” and then repeated the feat a year later with “Cold Water.” The Danish pop star has also managed to drop a long, staggeringly-good list of singles including “Final Song,” “Kamikaze,” “Drum” and “Nights With You.” And, somewhat surprisingly, none of them appear on her just-released sophomore set.
It seems that MØ has been trying to make her way back to the more alternative sound of her debut without alienating the fans she has picked up along the way with her chart-conquering collaborations. That’s a fine line for any artist to tread, but the 30-year-old makes it look easy on Forever Neverland. Together with Canadian producer ST!NT, pop’s MVP has crafted a collection of bangers that are deeply personal and a little off-kilter (in the best possible way), but still jam-packed with hooks and instantly addictive melodies.
The singles (and there have been quite a few of them) are the obvious starting point. Diplo, the Sonny to MØ’s Cher, returns for “Sun In Our Eyes” and it’s a deeply melancholy bop that toys with the themes of love and, ultimately, self-deception. It ranks as one of the most cruelly slept-on pop songs of 2018 — a description that also applies to buzz track, “Imaginary Friend.” While the Dane frequently explores matters of the heart, she rarely takes us inside the bedroom. That changes on this sexy, ruthlessly catchy banger. If NSFW MØ pushes your buttons, “Way Down” has a similarly seductive, druggy vibe. (Also, that flute is a touch of genius).
Another highlight is the suitably-titled “Nostalgia,” which is one of the album’s most obvious nods to the weird and wonderful sounds of MØ’s debut. In fact, one of the album’s greatest achievements is its ability to seamlessly weave together so many sub-genres of pop. Take “Blur,” which blends fuzzy, ’90s guitars into the overwhelmingly electro-soundscape. (You would be forgiven for thinking it was a Radiohead song until MØ’s vocal arrives). “Mercy,” a collaboration with What So Not and Two Feet, is another good example. Along with the deeply-autobiographical “Trying To Be Good,” this is the closest our heroine gets to a traditional, stripped-back ballad.
And while MØ is a true chameleon, she really comes into her own over a club beat. The same goes for Charli XCX, who has carved out a similar niche as a much-cherished alternative to pop’s trend-chasing divas. They have teamed up in the past (“Porsche” and “3AM”), but “If It’s Over” is their best collaboration yet. If nothing else, I want a video. Actually, the same goes for the Dane’s duet with fellow underground pop icon, Empress Of. “Red Wine” finds the rule-breakers coming together for a party anthem complete with a reggae-tinged beat. Think of this as the alt “Beautiful Liar.”
The album begins and ends with an ode to MØ’s adopted home of California called “Purple Like The Summer Rain,” which emphasizes the feeling that she has come full circle. MØ has finally settled on her sound and come to terms with her place in the industry. As far as electro-pop albums go, they don’t get much better than Forever Neverland. Let’s hope the singer/songwriter finally has her moment. Or perhaps dancing around the periphery of the pop world, at her own pace and on her own terms, was the plan all along.