No longer a ‘pop artist’, now a ‘singer-songwriter’. So declared Lykke Li in the run up to her latest, third album – the Swede who’s been shaking off ‘cute’ ever since her 2008 debut. Curious, not least because the Swedish artist continues to write songs that are as pop as ever. The real shift here is in tone: ancient history is the quirk and bounce of debut ‘Youth Novels’. ‘I Never Learn’ is instead marked by an aloof cynicism, a steeliness guarding a deeply felt sense of betrayal. I’m ‘Never Gonna Love Again’, she mourns. I’ve got a ‘Heart of Steel’, she laments. And the sweeping, quasi-orchestral arrangements show she ain’t kiddin’.

In less skilled hands, this could all get pretty tiring; tiresome even. Or perhaps I should say more tiring: certainly, the widescreen majesty of ‘I Never Learn’ can seem stifled by the obsessive monotony of Li’s emotional tenor. She’s fatigued, yes, and she’s not content just to describe how that feels. But what Li might have lost in personability, her music’s gained handsomely in melodic elegance. These songs are intensely focussed, soaring with the grace of ‘Hounds of Love’ and, occasionally, even the sparkle of ‘Vespertine’.

It’s all poise and precision, complemented by a suitably cavernous, wall of sound production. Still, as an artist that first stole hearts singing about ‘Dance, Dance, Dance’-ing, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish she’d lighten up a bit.


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