The chief concern when this fourth full-length from Lykke Li was announced was that she might’ve slipped into self-parody. After all, if Childish Gambino derived his stage name from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator, then ‘so sad so sexy’ could just as easily have been derived from an algorithm that spits out song titles for the Swede. Actually, though, the main surprise on this album is less the change in musical direction and more that she didn’t take it sooner; her last LP, the sorely underrated ‘I Never Learn’, flew under a lot of radars but that was perhaps because nobody expected it to be a stripped-back retread of its predecessor, the stormy indie rock collection ‘Wounded Rhymes’.
Li’s association with hip hop is a storied one that goes back to debut album ‘Youth Novels’, which came to wider attention when a still-fledgling Drake sampled ‘Little Bit’; around the same time, she would cover A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Can I Kick It?’ at live shows. She returned Drake’s favour with her own take on ‘Hold On, I’m Coming Home’ a few years later, and – crucially – her husband, Jeff Bhasker, who produces here, is best known for his work with Kanye West.
Sure enough, ‘so sad so sexy’ is indeed Li’s first foray towards hip hop proper, although there’s plenty more going on too. The opening one-two both play out over clattering trap beats, but ‘Two Nights’, on which French R&B singer Amine features, owes a debt to The 1975’s ‘Somebody Else’. Drake, meanwhile, is evoked again on both the title track and ‘Sex Money Feelings Die’, particularly his ‘Nothing Was the Same’ era. The moody string backing on ‘Bad Woman’ carries ghostly echoes of ‘I Never Learn’, as does the quietly moody closer ‘Utopia’, but generally speaking this is a wholesale reinvention that, however overdue, Lykke Li wears very well.
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