Swedish pop icon raises the bar...

There’s scarcely been a time when Zara Larsson wasn’t famous. First reaching television screens in her native Sweden as a precocious 10 year old, it took second album ‘So Good’ to push her to an international level. Broadly speaking, she’s grown up in the public eye, yet she owns this - her mistakes are her mistakes, and her achievements are her achievements.

‘Poster Girl’ is her first full length project for four years, and it’s a work that strikes the balance between aesthetic evolution and retaining the playful pop element that has made her so successful. The arena-level production contains more than its fair share of fireworks, but there’s subtlety, too - not least of all in the lyrics, a non-gendered approach to love that works as an open-minded and future-facing gesture in its own right.

A relentless upbeat symphonic dance record, ‘Poster Girl’ writhes with energy. Matching potent Scandi-pop to pizzicato strings on lush opener ‘Love Me Land’, Zara then segues into her unexpected but actually-damn-good Young Thug hook up ‘Talk About Love’.

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Indeed, matters of the heart dominate ‘Poster Girl’ - feelings are worn on the sleeve, and there’s a directness that moves from her vocals to the final master. ‘Need Someone’ opens with those delicate Nyman-esque piano trills, and it contrasts perfectly with summer-fresh pop monster ‘I’m Right Here’ and it’s stunning, colour-soaked chorus.

‘I Need Love’ is a muscular, arena-level bout of tropical pop, and it’s in-your-face approach leads into the multi-faceted ‘Look What You’ve Done’, and it’s intriguing use of vintage disco strings as a contrast to the nostalgic lyrical motif. A tale of love and loss, it’s one of the album’s most effective blends of light and shade, a supremely contoured Swedish pop construction.

But it’s not all colour and daring. ‘Stick With You’ charms with its guitar intro, while there’s a slight country twang to Zara Larsson’s vocal, as if she’s exploring the hitherto unclaimed Nordic roots of Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn.

‘FFF’ is playful but explicit, while mighty closing statement ‘What Happens Here’ is a punchy closer, a race to the finishing line that finds Zara Larsson operating at Olympic levels.

It’s not all perfect - no pop record that takes as much chances as this could ever hope to hit 10/10 home runs - but it’s certainly entertaining. Direct, up-front, and completely unabashed, ‘Poster Girl’ finds Zara Larsson living up to the fame that has surrounded her for more than a decade. Grappling with responsibilities towards fans and familiars, it’s a treatise on love, hurt, and self-growth, one that finds the Swedish icon revelling in an exuberant creativity.

8/10

Words: Robin Murray

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