If you thought Adele took breakups hard, just wait until you hear Lykke Li’s yearning third album, I Never Learn. It’s the Swedish singer’s most vulnerable, intimate record to date, and another sign that she’s becoming one of the most bankable–artistically if not commercially–indie-pop artists around.
“Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone,” the album’s lead single, might have thrown some listeners for a loop – it’s achingly raw, a wounded, stripped-down vocal that’s a far cry from her profile-raising 2007 single “A Little Bit.” But retrace your steps, and you’ll find that Lykke Li has been planting the seeds for this kind of record for a while now. Even her edgier, more groove-heavy second album Wounded Rhymes had songs like “Unrequited Love,” “Sadness is a Blessing” and “You Know Places” – sonically quieter, more emotionally heavy tunes.
On I Never Learn, we’re treated to guitar-strumming, campfire alt-pop in the form of “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone” and the album’s title track, as well flowing, hymn-like tracks like “No Rest for the Wicked”–songs that similarly sacrifice driving percussion in favor of pushing Lykke Li’s vocals to the forefront. It’s a risky move: Lykke Li is a versatile (and atmospheric) but not overwhelmingly powerful singer, and there are times where her nasally tone veers into Nelly Furtado territory. But to do anything else would have been at odds with what’s going on between the lines. And what that is exactly is Lykke Li laying herself to bare.
Lykke Li flips the script on I Never Learn. She’s not the scorned, but the scorner, and that turns out to be just as powerful. On “No Rest for the Wicked” she confesses: “I let my good one down / I let my true love die / I had his heart but I broke it every time.” Despite the intimacy, the music packs a wider scope. In some ways, I Never Learn is a kind of Lilith Fair record for the Pitchfork generation. You can’t help but envision misty-eyed festival crowds singing–and swaying–along to songs like “Silver Line,” “Never Gonna Love Again” and “Heart of Steel,” chorus-anchored confessionals about heartbreak, lonely nights, and star-crossed lovers.
The person who inspired I Never Learn likely won’t be confronted with Lykke Li’s soul-bearing songs blaring out of radios everywhere, but it’ll be a punch to the gut if and when they ever catch wind of it.