Lykke Li's latest, I Never Learn (LL/Atlantic) is so overloaded with details about her personal life and a relationship that has reached a point of no return that I feel like a creepy Peeping Tom just getting through any single song — let alone the entire album. Unfortunately, after hearing Lykke's deepest thoughts and feelings on the matter, I almost want to take her ex-boyfriend's side. The Lykke Li writing these songs just doesn't feel like the same artist who captured my heart as a listener — and if Lykke Li, the actual person has changed in much the same way, she's clearly not the same girl her ex fell in love with, either.
The Swedish songstress caught my ears with her breathy whispered confessions on 2008's Youth Novels. The album sounded fresh and unique — light, bouncy, quirky indie-pop styled by Björn Yttling (Peter, Bjorn, and John) and full of catchy hooks and lyrics laced with charming girly flirtations, like when Li sang that she was "a little bit in love with you, but only if you're a little bit in love with me."
The follow-up to her promising debut, Wounded Rhymes in 2011, was drastically different. The lyrics were a bit darker and occasionally brazen, as she came right out and told us "I'm your prostitute, you're gon' get some." The percussion on "Get Some" was huge, danceable, and fun. The rest of the LP was tempered with some vulnerable moments and balladry, but there was a strong sense this was a woman not to be trifled with, one who knew exactly who she was and what she had to offer.
That woman seems to have faded away in I Never Learn, and what remains is a whiny pathetic shell of a person that once had such a bright spark. There are still glimmers of Li's vitality, her vocals are strong and Yttling's production is fantastic, if occasionally overblown; strings reach overwhelming levels and huge arrangements accompany the reverb-drenched, multi-tracked power ballads. The lyrics are trite and tired, however ("every time the rain falls, think of me," and "even though it hurts, even though it scars, love me when it storms, love me when I fall"), and mostly, I Never Learn reads like a melodramatic bummer, and leaves the impression that someone may be pushing a little too hard to make Lykke Li into the next Adele. Perhaps it would work if she was a typical pop star. She's not.
It's hard to imagine what really went wrong in Lykke Li's relationship. And after slogging through this album a few times, I just don't care. Many failed romances have a cycle and Lykke Li chronicles quite effectively: The tentative mutual infatuation first drawing a couple together, teasing flirtation until one person makes a bold first move, deepening feelings until it seems two personalities are mingled as one. The unfortunate truth though, is that people change and it's damn hard for two individuals to change at the same pace.
This album makes me want to shake Lykke Li and demand she snap out of it, remind her that she's a smart, talented, confident, beautiful woman. But mostly, I just want the old Lykke Li back, because at no point in I Never Learn does she reveal that sense of charm that kept my (and I imagine her boyfriend's) interest.
CRITICS' RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars