Lykke Li is no stranger to heartache. Her debut album, “Youth Novels,” and its successor, “Wounded Rhymes,” have each had their share of the blues, and Li proceeds to sing the same tune with her new album, “I Never Learn.” She describes it as the third part of a trilogy chronicling the life of a woman in her 20s, and the pain and confusion that goes along with that time. Compared to her first two projects, “I Never Learn” has to be the most solemn one yet. The grandeur present in the production of every song remains, but “I Never Learn” lacks the heavy pop vibe of her first two albums, which both churned out a few dance hits. The indie-pop songstress personally digs deeper with her latest effort, and as a result we have an instrumentally simpler, but lyrically heart-wrenching, set of songs from Li.
With only nine songs on the entire album, Li keeps it short and sweet. Song titles like “Never Gonna Love Again,” “Heart of Steel” and “Sleeping Alone” make it clear that this album is not going to be about rainbows and sunshine. Li is heartbroken and not afraid to show it. In “Never Gonna Love Again,” she gravely serenades the listener with lyrics like, “Baby can you hear the rain fall on me / Never gonna love again / Baby can you hear my heart cry tonight / Never gonna love again.” She moves in and out of playing the angry, scorned lover and the girl who yearns for love, despite the possibility of a negative outcome. In “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone,” she begs to be loved despite her shortcomings, played over a simple, acoustic guitar melody.
In “Gunshot,” one of the album’s best songs, an intense snare drum beats in the background as Li succumbs to the chaos of a toxic relationship. A few other songs share the same massive, full sound, including “No Rest for the Wicked,” which features a distant piano lingering in and out of a melody filled with booming drums and a gloomy bass line. “Just like a Dream” is the only song that doesn’t sound completely depressing. With an upbeat tempo, rattling tambourine and basic piano melody, it’s a song that you can listen to even if you haven’t been laying in bed all day on the verge of tears.
Li never quite reaches a place of happiness in any of her songs — and that’s okay, because she has perfected the sad song. However, you really do have to be in the mood to listen to an album like this, because it’s a bit overwhelming to listen to songs that speak of nothing but heartbreak through and through. The album’s closer, “Sleeping Alone,” is a beautiful piano ballad in which Li sings about the pain of loneliness and the horror of lost love. She does, however, add a bit of hope at the end, singing, “Some last / Some die / Some love wait till it’s time / If you save your heart for mine / We’ll meet again.” For her, it’s a big step from being completely hopeless, but doesn’t deter from the album’s theme of heartache.
To put it simply, if you’ve just gone through a breakup, this is the album for you. If you’re trying to maintain a jubilant attitude for the rest of your day, I suggest you find something else to listen to. Li’s songs are full of beauty and her voice is hypnotizing, and as she says in one of her songs, she is indeed a siren. But subject-wise, she explores little other than the tormented mind of the heartbroken, and it can become a bit redundant.
Rating: 3.5 stars