Lykke Li is my kind of pop star. Meaning that she’s a pop star who doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with being a pop star, and therefore tends to avoid this kind of restrictive categorization. Her last album (Wounded Rhymes), which I liked quite a bit, saw her dodging these constrictions with a playfully eccentric sound that wasn’t afraid to jump back and forth between genres. And despite her model looks and sweet-sounding soprano, I Never Learn sees her once again defying expectations by making an album that’s pretty much the opposite of what we expect out of a pop album by basically being really sad and heartbreaking.
Supposedly I Never Learn was recorded after Li went through a pretty devastating break-up before the Swedish-born Li convened to Los Angeles to record the album in seclusion. This isn’t a terribly unique story for what is essentially a classic “break-up record”, but I think it makes it easier to understand where Li is coming from. Or maybe it doesn’t. Because the fact of the matter is I’ve never been through the kind of brutal break-up that Li is singing about on songs like “Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone” or “Sleeping Alone”. But regardless, I think there’s something undeniably compelling about whenever someone has a gaping hole in their heart, and they’re trying to pull some sort of meaning out of that hole by singing about it. It’s the reason Fiona Apple albums are so arresting, and it’s the same reason why this one is as well.
Even though this is an admittedly somber and (let’s just say it) depressing album, Lykke Li still has some great pop instincts, which makes I Never Learn an easy pill to swallow if you’re willing to go with it. There are songs here that do have the kind of insular quality that you’d expect out of an album like this, but I’ve found its best moments to be in songs like “No Rest For The Wicked” or “Heart Of Steel”, which see Li exploring straight-up power balladry. I guess these songs feel refreshing because the power ballad seems like a fairly underused weapon in the modern pop music arsenal, while more immediately they make an album that’s often doubtful and defeated seem like hope is just around the corner.
Favorite Tracks: “No Rest For The Wicked”, “Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone”, “Never Gonna Love Again”