In the decade since releasing her début album, Youth Novels, Swedish singer Lykke Li established herself as a darling of the critics with 2011’s Wounded Rhymes and 2014’s I Never Learn, with both of those albums receiving near universal praise and achieving very respectable sales figures globally. Against the backdrop of these past successes, the expectation for Li’s fourth album, So Sad So Sexy, have been set high.
On the face of it, Li’s latest offering is a rather succinct affair which – much like her previous record I Never Learn – runs for a little over half-an-hour. But this impression of brevity is somewhat misleading, as several of the songs are overlong, as though they got lost in the maze of pristine production and nauseating repetition that is de rigueur in contemporary pop songwriting. Within seconds of the album starting, the vocal harmonies of Hard Rain make it abundantly clear that Li is vocally talented, and that this talent is coupled with a pleasant timbre, but gorgeous harmonies seem to be the only positive this album is capable of consistently delivering.
Second track, and lead single, Deep End sees the vocals delivered in such a manner that the lines “swimming pool, swimming pool/indigo, deep blue, deep blue” sound like mumbled gibberish, while Two Nights’ vocals are devoid of character until Aminé shows up to rap his verse – although his appearance and the accompanying musical shift feel like a tacked-on afterthought. Sex Money Feelings Die and the titular So Sad So Sexy disappear in a beige haze, with neither song capitalising on the edginess implied by the lyrics.
Better Alone is the record’s high-water mark – although the song could stand to be shortened by up to a minute – which along with Bad Woman provide a respite of minimalism before Utopia close the album in an over-effected and over-produced manner. As a work of contemporary pop, So Sad So Sexy is exemplary in its regression to the mean and is certainly a far cry from the quality that Li has demonstrated herself capable of in the past.