Lykke Li • I Never Learn • Atlantic • US Release Date: May 6, 2014
Love and heartbreak are a universal topic, regardless of what place or walk of life you come from. Crafting the perfect or near-perfect heartbreak album, then, shouldn’t be a difficult task. Unfortunately, that is not the case, as making a truly distinct, thoughtfully crafted breakup album requires skill. Swedish alternative-pop singer Lykke Li luckily possesses the talents to craft that caliber of album, doing so exceptionally on I Never Learn. In the brief period of about 33 minutes, Lykke Li is able to produce one of the year’s very best albums genre aside, no questions asked. Though her heart may be heavy throughout, the pain only affects the Lykke Li in a positive regard.
“I Never Learn” opens the effort with a pronounced acoustic guitar driven sound. While the acoustic sound always dominates, as the cut progresses, more layers of production are added, making the overall sound grandiose. Among those additional layers, the strings are absolutely lush and chilling. Vocally, Lykke Li sounds awesome herself, with her signature sound amplified by sound vocal production that never lets her fight with the total production work. The titular track is a solid start by all means.
While “I Never Learn” is definitely a sound, enjoyable starting point, proceeding single “No Rest For The Wicked” is the cream of the crop – the main attraction. “No Rest For The Weekend” sounds much more pop/urban-leaning compared to the opener, making it more relatable to the mainstream audiences. The cut is so hip, it even received an A$AP Rocky remix, which doesn’t appear on the album. Even though “No Rest For The Wicked” has an unexpected accessibility for multiple audiences, the message itself is deeper and more prudent: “There’ll be no rest for the wicked / there’s no song for the choir / there’s no hope for the weary / if you let them win without a fight.” Essentially, Lykke Li wants to fight for love; she wants to go back to the good, harmonious times.
“Just Like A Dream” truly follows a juggernaut in “No Rest For The Wicked”, but it’s no slouch itself. Li’s distinct voice once more gets a lift given its superb vocal production, easily rising above grand production in its own right (listen to how those crisp the percussion sounds). Even though Li is going through a break-up clearly (“I’m letting you go / I’m setting you free / I’m no longer love / head over heels”), she really doesn’t want to let him go and is optimistic despite reality (“…Darling I beg, come back to me…”). Magnificent production work further propels “Just Like A Dream” to lofty heights.
“Silver Line” opens with an infectious percussive groove – definitely a contrast to previous cuts. The songwriting is a selling point, exemplified by strong initiating lines like “Don’t wake the dream / don’t shake the axis / be faith, I need it / pray I believe it.” The chorus here is particularly haunting, once more thanks to Li’s expressive, nuanced pipes. “I’m your silver line, only you will find”, Li sings on the chorus, “Silver line, I’ll save you every time.” Essentially, Li suggests she can ‘complete’ and ‘save’ her former lover. Things are particularly powerful during the iterations of “Don’t wake the dreamer.”
“Gunshot” opens with a simple, minimalist groove that serves a foreshadowing purpose and allows for development. The simplicity allows for the songwriting and Lykke Li to be the focus, particularly with such dark lyrics the likes of “I am longing for your poison / like a cancer for its prey…” Obviously, by the time the ‘heartbreak’ shot “goes through my head and back” upon the chorus, the arrangement has filled out and Lykke Li completely sells her relationship misfortunes. Still, one has to wonder; can the dude she wants truly be a savior of sorts to her (“…Carry me and my burden / I was dreaming about you honey / I was hoping you’d save me”)?
“Love Me Like I’m Not Made Out Of Stone” revives the guitar-driven sound that established the opener, though there is more of an air of tenderness. By the final chorus, Lykke Li sounds incredibly affected by the arduous experience that love can be: “Even though it hurts, baby / Scars, love me when I fall / It breaks baby, this storm, really / every storm / love me like I’m not made of stone.” Lykke Li wants real, genuine love; she desires to be treated the same in regards to ‘true love’, regardless whether she excels, falls short, or otherwise (“Love me when it storms / love me when I fall / every time it breaks / every time it storms / love me like I’m not made of stone”). Whether or not Lykke Li is made of stone is debatable I suppose, but this song certainly isn’t.
On the beautiful, pop-sensible “Never Gonna Love Again”, Li vows that she’s gonna do just that – “never gonna love again”. As hurt as she may be and has exhibited freely throughout I Never Learn, her broken heart sounds incredibly enthusiastic. Maybe it’s just the major key or the gargantuan scope of the refrain, but even as she sings such depressed lyrics like “Every time the rain falls, think of me / on a lonely high way / How can we turn around the heartache”, Li seems to accept her lot in love. Maybe it’s just part of the grieving process, a ridiculous, oxymoronic ‘dark-optimism’, but there is a slight sense of the celebratory.
On penultimate cut “Heart of Steel”, Li seems to struggle with being hardhearted given the lot she has referenced in regards to love. It’s obvious through the lyrics that Li want to love (“Don’t leave me dying, without a lover to hold”), but she’s also afraid of heartbreak occurring once more (“Oh my heart, don’t break the promise / every time I pay the price / for a heart that can’t be broken…”). One of the nice production features of “Heart of Steel” is the enthusiastic, Herculean backing vocals that play into the ‘tone poem’ of the track. “Heart of Steel” shows unification within the total package of the song – lyrically, vocally, and with production value.
Unsurprisingly, yet appropriately, closing cut “Sleeping Alone” is incredibly moody, fitting right into the love-oriented narrative of I Never Learn without a hitch. Even though Li continues to struggle with the termination of love – the end of a chapter in her life – she also continues to show optimism, whether it’s false or not. “Someday, somehow / somewhere down the line / if you save your heart for mine / we’ll meet again, we’ll meet again,” she sings on one of the choruses. “Sleeping Alone” caps off a sensational LP sensationally.
Sure, heartbreak is never what you’d call fun or enjoyable, but Lykke Li manages to make it a ‘blast’ on I Never Learn. Incredibly mature in all facets, I Never Learn is consistent from start to finish, never laying an egg. With little to nitpick, this album receives my blessings by all means.
Favorites: “No Rest For The Wicked”; “Just Like A Dream”; “Never Gonna Love Again”; “Heart of Steel”