Lykke Li is a Swedish pop singer who possesses a beautiful soprano voice that gives her worthy notoriety. I Never Learn is Li’s third full-length album since 2008. Her debut, Youth Novels, landed her firmly in the midst of a tangible music career and earned her late night TV show performances and various press outlets naming her an artist to watch. Utilizing a broad array of organic instruments while also using synthetic pop beats, she creates a solid mixture of sounds. Despite using the broad range of instrumentation, Li prefers a smaller approach. Most of her songs are intimate and require a small building of instruments throughout the running time. I Never Learn is where she has taken an even smaller and dreary approach, yielding mostly positive results.
The vast array of instrumentation is no different with her third record; the use of piano, violins, sporadic drumming, horns, tambourines, and synthesizers are always looming and give each track a different feeling altogether. The best instrumental work is easily the piano, making most songs truly haunting with Li’s incredible set of pipes illuminating the stories. Li puts on a strong performance from beginning to end, only hiccuping on a few tracks. Her voice has a charming yet fragile quality that most mainstream artists would pray to tap into, and while the writing she presents is a bit lacking at moments, the great moments make up for every flawed one. The tragic love saga I Never Learn throws listeners down can be a bit too dreary at times, but most of the songs are tangible and occasionally heart breaking.
Three specific tracks on the record nail everything Li is going for: “No Rest for the Wicked” is the first strong song, showing off her more pop-laden talents. The synth-beat and piano mix beautifully throughout the track, while the chorus has an organic build that never fails to ignite. Li’s calm and broken apology to a former lost love is genuine and sad. “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone” is the best track by a mile, being Li’s masterpiece. This is the smallest song on the album, relying on nothing other than her voice and an acoustic guitar. Both are small and conflicted, much like the heavy themes of trying to love someone while having the capability of hurting others with a heart made of stone. The closing track shows slightly more hope, but still ends the album on a bummer. “Sleeping Alone” shows Li moving on from her lost lover, but still leaving a door open if they decide to take her back in the future. The depressive and haunting piano nails the theme perfectly.
There are a few problems with I Never Learn worth noting, though. “Never Gonna Love Again” is the weakest track on the album, being too derivative and annoying in the middle to give off any true feeling. The slight hope that the song gives off in vocal delivery never meshes with the dark undertone of the piano and guitar. “Heart of Steel” continues the trend with Li trying to create something that shows her rejecting someone’s love instead of the complete opposite, but the chorus is too awkward and distracting for it’s own good.
The two other main problems are the overall tone of the record and a lack of intrigue throughout the track listing. The tone is nailed well within the nine songs, but the ride is just too dreary and depressing to want to dive into again. It almost makes a listener want to bury themselves in a tub of ice cream and eat like they have just lost a significant other as well. As far as intrigue, the instrumentation is too small for most tracks, and while there are plenty of sounds put out, they are blocked out in the mixing process to barely above a hum in the background.
Lykke Li has really stripped her sound down to a much simpler attack, reaping the benefits while losing some points as well. The idea of making this deep of a scarring record is interesting, along with some heartbreaking song writing as well. However, some of the mixing choices and tones are too dreary for their own good, and even though Li does a great job with this record as far as releasing what she wanted, it will be a tough one to re-visit for most people.
1. I Never Learn
2. No Rest For the Wicked
3. Just Like a Dream
4. Silver Line
6. Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone
7. Never Gonna Love Again
8. Heart of Steel
9. Sleeping Alone