I been stung by a star seed honey
He shone love like a lightning honey
I been hit by a star seed honey
His love burns like a lightning honey
I’m right here I’m your star crossed lover
I lie here like a starless lover
I’ll die here as your phantom lover
I never learn
I never learn
Swedish songstress Lykke Li’s new album is powerful and poetic, but in contrast to her previous releases, I Never Learn offers no thematic variety. From heart-wrenching opener “I Never Learn” to downcast closer “Sleeping Alone,” the album is a thorough examination of the wound suffered from the collapse of a relationship. For that reason, the album, which Li considers the final installment of the trilogy started with 2008’s Youth Novels, is naturally painstaking and emotional and absolutely beautiful.
Its relentless thematic consistency and stubbornness of pace, however, is exhausting. Li’s no longer interested in exploring the power and optimism derived from picking up the pieces or anything. She doesn’t want to take even a glance at the bright side of things anymore. She wallows the whole nine songs, and as sensitive and moving as it is, it begins to translate as maudlin once your auditory tear ducts run dry.
On 2012’s Wounded Rhymes, Li confessed that she would “rather live out a lie than live wonderin’ / how the fire feels while burnin’.” That glimpse of content has all but dissipated, leaving any emotional expression besides self-pity and tragedy virtually stripped away. Even on her second album’s depressingly titled “Sadness is a Blessing,” Li succeeds at her penchant for glorifying melancholia, but manages to do so without quashing an underlying glimmer of hope (that would come in the form of buoyant drums and zealous keys).
We’re offered an indication of conviction in the single “Gunshot,” but it’s still a love-torn ballad. That song, along with the stormy “No Rest For The Wicked,” most closely resembles anything we heard on Wounded Rhymes. While I sorely miss the upbeat, minimally optimistic yet still groovy sounds from the past, the title track and the first single, “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone,” effectively sell me on Li’s brand of downhearted musicality. On I Never Learn, I love her because she’s made of stone.
Still, on Wounded Rhymes she howled at the pain of “Unrequited Love” and lamented over the “Rich Kid’s Blues,” but also celebrated that “Youth Knows No Pain” and romanticized “Love out of Lust.” If I Never Learn ran a couple tracks longer and included a few numbers that expanded on the dark but playful themes introduced in her previous works and featured Li’s signature sprawling drums or ear-candy melodies, it would have been her best record yet. Instead, Li jadedly resigns to relish in sorrow and depression, unable to work up the motivation or interest to churn out anything half as galvanizing as “Get Some,” or defiant as “Complaint Department.”
Li has expressed that with this album, she wanted to achieve a respected singer-songwriter status and shed the indie-pop princess reputation her earworm melodies have earned her. This is great. I’m not expecting Li to pen Charli XCX style summer stompers, but I did expect more of the eccentric tunes that made her a name in the first place.
I Never Learn is missing a couple crucial songs, and without their energy, it withdraws into sad shadows instead of commanding her gloomy strength. On Youth Novels she’s a cryptic and cool Wednesday Addams. On Wounded Rhymes she’s a cackling, arcane Maleficent. On I Never Learn she’s Eeyore — pathetic, glum, and lacking conviction, but still, admittedly, lovable.
Favs: I Never Learn, Gunshot, Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone