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There are few things that'll get people giddy enough to do a little wee right where they're sat, but the slightest titillating scrap of hearsay that Lykke Li is doing something new is definitely one of those things. The Swedish alt. pop contessa first dangled the carrot at the beginning of March with 'Love Me Like I'm Not Made Of Stone', a distinctly lo-fi and threadbare metamorphosis. Her voice fizzes, clipping against fretbuzz and bootleg-calibre production. It's a jarring gambit to swan back into the fray with, but the enduring grandeur of something so brittle is proof of her being a magical, once-in-a-lifetime kind of artist.
I Never Learn is now upon us. It's a bold stride away from engorged hooks and featherlike electro-pop of prior cuts such as 'Little Bit', 'Jerome', 'I Follow Rivers', 'Get Some' and 'I'm Good, I'm Gone'. Li's focus is now on crafting immense tsunamis of noise. Comprising newfound (or newly preferred) organic elements doused in reverb, like echoing pianos and slurring guitars, her sound errs towards indie-rock with folk daubed on. Structure, dynamics and texture play bigger roles, with thundering climaxes and more peaks and valleys than Welsh dubstep. Though pace is rarely shaken up, this is a grandiose collection of songs with operatic tendencies. It's the kind of record that would be backed by an orchestra during live performances.
'No Rest For The Wicked' has already attacked our senses with its traumatic video, but the track itself is still able to deal damage on the full-length. It's got gospel tendencies, crunchy, tousled drums and a chorus with rousing vigour, but the tale of heartbreak still has the power to devastate through the tender balladry. The timbre remains largely similar for 'Just Like A Dream''s reserved solemnity. Her percussive freneticisms return, with toms (or maybe timps?) being battered like cod at a chippy. It's a huge, megaton blast of swooning pop that'll stick with you for weeks. The calibre Li maintains on I Never Learn is high, but even so, this is a cut above.
At the outset of this record, Li was firm in asserting her desire to be viewed as a singer-songwriter as opposed to a pop artist. Sympathising with that proclamation isn't difficult, and it's easy to understand her ambition to be recognised as a 'proper' musician (not that the contrary has ever been the case). However, given the production team behind I Never Learn - Björn Yttling and Greg Kurstin - it becomes difficult to gander at exactly how she's made that transformation: the former being of Peter Bjorn and John fame - pretty sublime indie-pop - and the latter, a decorated Top 40 knob-twiddler (P!nk, Lily Allen, Ellie Goulding, Kelly Clarkson... and The Shins). Then comes the fact that, despite how much the lady doth protest, her sound does bear a distinct pop twang; it always has, but it's never made her any less than exactly what she is: an astounding musician.
Popularity and quality aren't mutually exclusive concepts (nor are they particularly conjoined), and though it's not caused any detriment here, her disillusionment with pop isn't necessarily going to win her favours in the future. Why strain so hard against something that clearly comes naturally?
We hear that primal pop urge on track like 'Gunshot', with its enormous vocal melody verging towards Rihanna's R&B-pop and/or Lana Del Rey's melodramatic salvo; make no mistake, these are pros, not cons. Country-ish guitars herald the arrival of 'Heart Of Steel', which seems to brandish similar themes to 'Love Me Like I'm Not Made Of Stone', but uses actual gospel choir and grandiose jiggers of theatrical pomp. Pop is easy to find here, and it's utterly fantastic.
This record marks the final instalment of her trilogy, started by Youth Novels and continued by Wounded Rhymes, that attempts to chronicle the ups and downs and the everything inbetweens of being a woman in your twenties. As a summation of everything she's expressed to date, of the narratives told and emotions felt, it is a fitting denouement.
The overarching tone of I Never Learn is content; not with life or love as such, but there's a peace found throughout with Li herself. She's come to terms with her kinks, qualms and quirks, she's proud and strong to boot. It's a monumental epitaph of a record, the kind of reflective self-eulogising that's admirable and deserved of widespread adoration. It's an emphatic, resounding trophy for the inner Li, and, on a wider scale, anyone. This is 100% bittersweet, but it's honest, it's genuine and we see Li's true colours, hopefully shining back on us. She - we - may not be perfect, and that couldn't be more okay.
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