Lykke Li - I Never Learn

Big, bold and heart-wrenching.

Label: Atlantic

Rating:

‘I Never Learn’ has been billed as the final entry in a trilogy following Lykke Li’s debut ‘Youth Novels’ and follow-up, ‘Wounded Rhymes’. It’s been an interesting journey to this, an intense and autobiographical look at being ‘a woman in your 20s’.

It’s been an absorbing listen and, just like all the best trilogies, this final instalment is big, bold and heart-wrenching. Li has always worn her heart on her sleeve and here the ‘the hurt and the pride and the confusion of being a woman’, as she has put it, is viewed through an album of songs that sound more epic than her previous work and makes good on her promise that she’s found her voice.

The key to the album is Li trying to pull off the trick of making an intimate, personal album with a big sound. Lyrically it’s as honest and open as it could possibly be. That a recent romantic split has informed the song writing is clear just by looking at the titles: ‘I Never Learn’ and ‘Never Gonna Love Again’.

Yet for all this lyrical intimacy, it also sounds huge. To say the songs on ‘I Never Learn’ are power ballads is an understatement. The songs have been layered so much that on first listen it’s easy to be blasted away. Instruments are doubled up upon each other and Li’s voice sounds mesmerisingly huge. These are the most powerful of power ballads.

You can hear the melding of these two ideas right from the opening title track, starting with just a strummed guitar and already sounding massive before the sunrise strings and Li’s multi-tracked vocals come in. But this hugeness doesn’t make it any less raw, doesn’t lessen the emotional core of the songs. In fact, that her voice sounds so big shows she’s not hiding away.

Things get even bigger sounding after that: album stand out ‘No Rest for The Wicked’ begins with a simple piano line before thundering drums come in. Li’s plaintive vocals and widescreen feel make it magnetic. Elsewhere ‘Gunshot’ could have been from an 80s cop film, all dry ice and shoulder pads.
For an artist known for her aloofness, Li’s certainly not shrinking away from anything here. Her distorted voice on ‘Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone’ seems like the sound of her having her heart ripped out. It’s just her and an acoustic guitar but its pull is strong. Elsewhere the big production doesn’t work quite so well but it’s always unremittingly honest and, therefore, captivating.

This chapter may be closed but ‘I Never Learn’ shows that Lykke Li remains a fascinating character. Just like love itself, it’s an album you will fall for despite (or even because of) its flaws and imperfections as much as the real moments of truth and beauty it provides.