Swedish indie pop songstress Lykke Li returns with I Never Learn, her personal Book of Lamentations.
This is Li’s third studio album and also her most concise.
The collection breaks off at just 33 minutes after nine power ballads, as if it were conscious of brooding too much but to paraphrase a Kelly Rowland ballad, when Li makes pain look this good – it never wears out.
I Never Learn was inspired by a colossal break up that drove Li to move from her home country Sweden to Los Angeles. It was here that the singer took two and a half years to heal and – rather cathartically – write. The album is a reflection of not just Li’s brokenness but also coming of age and coming into her artistry.
The 28-year old has dismissed the mousy, coquettish vocals that coloured her first album Youth Novels. Today she reveals herself as an earnest singer/songwriter, who no longer overcompensates to fit with rigid definitions of what an indie pop starlet should sound like. She saves all the impact for her lyrics and heartfelt vocal delivery.
The album’s lead single ‘No Rest For The Wicked’ is tinged with regret for the one that got away. Lykke mourns, “My one heart hurt another, so only one life can’t be enough. Can you give me just another for that one who got away?”.
There are at least four other monumental tracks on I Never Learn, most of them tucked away at the end. ‘Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone’ is a raw and naked track with reluctant guitar strums. It’s here that you marvel at Lykke’s ability to transport you to a memory, sit quietly in the background and sing the soundtrack to it.
‘Never Gonna Love Again’ sounds like a power ballad that tumbled out of the 80s – complete with signature strong reverb and tear-streaked lyrics. It certainly could have given Heart’s ‘Alone’ a run for its money. She calls out on the chorus: “Every time the rain falls, think of me…”
Love becomes a battlefield on the Greg Kurstin-produced ‘Gunshot’, which sounds like it could have been Lykke crossed with Tegan and Sara in military mode. The comparison is probably quite fair given that Kurstin himself produced Tegan and Sara’s mainstream crossover album Heartthrob. Although ‘Gunshot’ isn’t ostentatiously produced by any means, it appears to be so in this line up. The track adds new shapes and textures to the predominantly sombre piano and stark drums soundscape.
Elsewhere, ‘Heart of Steel’ takes us to a higher place with a gospel-style chorus that somehow manages to leave a smile on your face, even though the lyrics lay bare before you a weary, despondent woman. She sings: “Don’t run, don’t hide. Don’t fight when I finally find a hand to hold, a song that clings with mine…”
I Never Learn is a break up album with flair, characterised by that very Scandinavian approach to pop where even the most melancholy record can still somehow sound wistful.
At no point does the singer/songwriter leave you feeling like you’re bearing her heavy cross, instead this immaculate collection of ‘growing pains ballads’ taps into very universal feelings of loneliness, regret and abandonment. It reaches out and gently kneads old heart bruises – yes, it may hurt and suck for awhile but that’s how you get rid of bruises. I Never Learn offers what all good break up albums should, a cathartic channel to connect to and heal with.
Standout tracks: ‘Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone’, ‘Never Gonna Love Again’ and ‘No Rest for The Wicked’.