Pop

Lykke Li’s Morose ‘Eyeye’ Doesn’t Sound Like An Ending — But That Might Be The Point

Ask most people who’ve had their heart trampled on by love if it was worth it, and the answer is usually a resounding… yes. That might be surprising, but despite the pain that comes from an inevitable breakup, most lovers agree that the good times outweighed the bad; they move forward looking to fall for someone else, pain be damned. The cycle is eternal (unless the love affair turns out to be) and for one of Sweden’s finest musicians, Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson, heartache is the export she knows best. Lykke Li is a singer-songwriter — and lowkey pop star — who has spent her career contemplating this cyclical nature of romantic love and loss.

Though some artists might find it insulting to condense the scope of their career into a singular recurring theme, Lykke has made it clear that her latest album, EYEYE, is an almost meta, hyper-focused examination of her focus on adoration and heartache. In a recent interview with The Telegraph, she declared herself a “love junkie” and came to the conclusion that her pattern in relationships is something that needed to be addressed head-on. “I’ve really realized that I can’t blame anyone else any longer for my suffering,” she told the UK paper. “It’s really turning the lens back to myself and getting back to the root of why I’ve repeated some patterns.” Still, getting clean is usually easier said than done.

Even as EYEYE looks to be an overarching study of the subject, each of the eight songs on her fifth album approaches matters of the heart from a different angle. “5D” imagines a couple through the crisp, cinematic lens of a movie’s love story, and “Carousel” is the sole slightly upbeat track here, pitching tinny ‘80s as the stand-in for a carnival merry-go-round’s pure romance. But when it hurts, EYEYE pulls zero punches. Li consistently called this album “a break up with the breakup album,” but from the sounds of this, this pair is more together than ever. In some ways, the album is simply Li’s past MO turned up to eleven — a maximalist approach to pain done in Li’s signature soft, synthy tones.

And though her last album, so sad so sexy, found a hint of twisted pleasure in the pain, there’s very little to long for here. The album’s lead single, “No Hotel,” decries the tropes of toxic lovers — hotels, cigarettes — for the even sadder act of turning up on someone’s doorstep to beg for them back. Instead of glorying in a past memory spent in a gorgeous hotel room doing something sad and sexy, Li cites a moment in the back of a car, a bit of pathos too stark to need unpacking. “Happy Hurts” is the de facto center of the record, and the most vintage Lykke as she spins whispery vocals against a backdrop of stately organ chords, looking for meaning in passing cars and more old memories.

The driving theme continues on “Highway To Your Heart,” a song with the title of an ‘80s power ballad that still manages to be one of the stronger offerings here. Flanked harmonies, booming percussion and dramatic piano chords echo some of the production choices on one of Li’s best albums, I Never Learn, and indicates that the return of her longtime collaborator Peter Bjorn and John’s Björn Yttling is a positive development. But despite these high-water marks, the album’s closing numbers, “Over” and “u&i” are both mid-tier drags, the kind of sadness that only makes sense to the person going through it. Neither connect to a larger world outside of themselves like the most electric breakup songs do (“Dancing On My Own,” “Back To Black”), and the lengthy runtime of the final track only adds to the claustrophobia.

If Lykke Li really wants to break up with the breakup album format, her best bet is to attempt a new form. Whether that’s a love song, or a reflection on another facet of her emotional life, I don’t know. But one last dose of breakup songs seems unlikely to cure her of her old ways. It remains to be seen if she goes cold turkey after EYEYE, but if the album has proved anything, it’s that her talents are best spent elsewhere. Then again, give the morose “You Don’t Go Away” a spin at the right time of evening, and you might find yourself falling right back into the record again. Does EYEYE sound like the closing of a chapter? No — but odds are that doesn’t surprise any of the ex-lovers listening to it on loop.

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