The Swedes can turn to any number of things to foster a sense of pride in their country. From the hilarious Muppets chef to the cost-effective furniture of Ikea, you’ve got to admit that Sweden has some pretty sweet exports to brag about and not least among these national treasures is 28-year-old songstress Lykke Li. Her signature style of melancholic pop has earned her a diehard and ever-growing fanbase since Youth Novels, her 2008 debut LP. She first appeared on the scene with the adorable 2007 single Little Bit and Li’s star continued to rise with the release of 2011’s sophomore effort Wounded Rhymes. Now she returns for album number three with a little help from renowned producer Greg Kurstin (P!nk, Lily Allen, Sia) and fellow Nordic globetrotter Björn Yttling of Peter Björn and John.
The stern, monochromatic shot of Lykke on the cover of I Never Learn is a pretty good indicator that none of these songs will be making it onto anyone’s Super-Fun-Happy-Summertime playlist any time soon, but those familiar with Li will know she’s never been the kind of artist to go for that sort of thing anyway. Comprising of a lean 9-song tracklist, the record kicks off with the reverbed-out acoustic title-track that sets the tone for the ensuing half-hour. I Never Learn feels like that scene in any really clever arthouse romance where everything falls apart and a lilting string section underscores the song beautifully. Lead single No Rest For The Wicked follows on starting out with some some eerie piano before exploding into a dark, massive chorus replete with the kind of orchestral drumming that really packs a punch in pop music.
Just Like A Dream plays like a defiant dirge-march over a swooning sea of synth beds, tambourine and general ‘80s-inspired chiaroscuro before the warped drum-machine and sparing guitar weave the gorgeous web that is Silverline. The obvious contender for I Never Learn’s second single has to be Gunshot with its huge chorus and stomping momentum grabbing you by the throat before the plain-and-simple acoustic outing Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone goes for the emotional jugular. There’s something very ‘90s about its 4-track intimacy aesthetic and if you’re in the narrow demographic of Li’s followers who also like the band Weezer, it sounds similar to one of the 1000+ of Rivers’ Cuomo’s infamous demos – and if you aren’t this is definitely a good thing.
Picking the pace back up a little is the country-tinged Never Gonna Love Again. Instead of the Nashville-perfection treatment that most songs of this ilk get nowadays, the human grit that Lykke has always exemplified is at the forefront and it’s another devastating look into the lovelorn angst that flavors the entire album.
Heart Of Steel starts as the kind of detached-but-still-somehow-fascinating fare that’s present in a lot of European pop before building to an impassioned gospel choir chant by the end and the album rounds out with the heartbreaking Sleeping Alone. It ties up the set wonderfully with its raw honesty over the same bath of dark ambience you’ve taken over the course of I Never Learn and ends with a glimmer of hope in the “We’ll meet again” coda of the outro.
Lykke Li is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea but then again, all truly great artists follow their own vision and heart rather than the sales figures of their last record. I Never Learn is kind of depressing in a really pretty way and leaves you with either a sense of sympathy for the emotional depths Li had to plumb in order to write these songs or more likely, she hits that specific nerve that reminds you how awful it is to have your heart broken but in doing so reminds you that you’re never truly alone when albums like this exist in the world.