Jens Lekman is dicing with death. With his fourth album, and first since 2012’s somewhat subdued I Know What Love Isn’t, he has made a full reach for the stars. Long-time fans of his will be familiar with his blend of fey, witty, bleeding heart lyrics and major key pop compositions, with his second album Night Falls Over Kortedala standing as something of an indie classic. Even that does not prepare you, however, for the embrace of primary coloured, unembarrassed party music that he has conjured on Life Will See You Now. What’s more, through sheer force of personality, he makes it work.
The album’s lead single was ‘What That Perfume That You Wear?’, a song that starts with a fairly straightforward guitar line and a set of wistful, nostalgic lyrics from Lekman that puts us right in the romantic melancholy zone that we have become familiar with. We are almost immediately jerked out of that safe place, however, as a dancing steel drum carnival breaks out at the climax of the first verse. It’s a jolt that will make or break your experience of this album. The repressed and miserable among the music cognoscenti may balk, but Jens is all in on the street party atmosphere, and he wants you to join him.
‘Evening Prayer’ continues the theme. Kicking off with a fluorescent, girl group doo-wop harmony that even Bananarama might have thought twice about, it tells the story of a friend of Jens who carried around with him a 3D print of the tumour that he had recently had surgically removed. Confused? The bulk of the album is made up of such juxtapositions, but the genuine wittiness and disarming openness that comes through both his lyrics and delivery is impossible to resist. In other hands, this could be cringeworthy, but Jens presents it without irony and you cannot help but enjoy it.
‘To Know Your Mission’ is a tale of a Mormon missionary in Gothenburg the day that Princess Diana died: “He listened to the tragic news/ Followed by the top ten tunes/ Will Smith, Puff Daddy, Chumbawamba.” Maybe the most irresistible of all is ‘How We Met, The Long Version’, opening with a repeating synth line that sounds ripped from Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, before brass and bass flush the track with boundless club-ready energy. It calls to mind ‘Your Cover’s Blown’, the equivalent moment in Belle & Sebastian’s career where they – albeit fleetingly - made a full embrace of disco music.
There are, unfortunately, moments that fail to take off. ‘Our First Fight’ is bogged down by an overly twee what-it-says-on-the-tin story backed by an uninspiring acoustic guitar strum. Subsequent track ‘Wedding in Finistère’ opens with an African highlife skip, but becomes a sub-Graceland singalong that doesn’t follow through on the early promise. It exposes how close the album sails to middle-of-the-road safety – more Chris Montez than The Avalanches.
Happily, those are the exceptions on Life Will See You Now. If at first listen this record immediately raises your shackles, then ask yourself why. There is a wide-eyed optimism pulsing through the heart of it which, twinned with Jens’ lovelorn, quirky poetry, is a sincere, open-hearted invitation. The least it deserves is the same uncynical embrace from the listener.