Despite her sweetly candied-pop past, Lykke Li was perhaps the most likely candidate for a tearjerking breakup album. The Swedish artist left her homeland for Los Angeles after the tragic separation, and she set to writing the final installment in what she calls a trilogy chronicling “a woman in her twenties and her search for love and herself.” The resulting I Never Learn amps up the sentiment to a more mature (and occasionally grueling) level without sacrificing the artist’s iconic wintry soul. On her best record to date, Lykke Li brings heartbreak to the center stage while providing a kind of raw emotional narrative that few vocalists ever achieve.
The album’s title track sets a distinctly mournful tone for the rest of the album. Filled with longing and the memories of a lovestruck trance, Li’s soaring soprano commands the skies with images of falling stars and fallen dreams. “I been stung by a star seed honey” she sings, as much a plea for help as a fragmented recollection of a dream. Given the kind of substantive prominence it deserves, Lykke Li’s voice stands in stark contrast with the grandiose of strings and earth-shaking beats.
“No Rest For The Wicked” explores guilt and loneliness amid a gloomy piano serenade, until the pounding percussion kick off the most tender ballad of her short career. I Never Learn tastefully draws on such ballad queens as Florence Welch and Paula Abdul without emulating their grandeur; what she lacks somewhat in lung power, she makes up for with heated intensity and sincere delivery. She hesitates to utter the most painful words in “Love Me Like I’m Made of Stone,” giving the tragic requiem a hardened stoicism that reminds us all what it feels like to shut out the world. This leads eloquently into “Never Gonna Love Again,” an explosive song which seems to shatter all illusion of separation between the artist and the listener. She utters “baby can you hear the rain fall on me,” in a moment of bold vulnerability; I was simultaneously lovestruck and shattered.
Lykke Li’s attempts to distance herself from her indie-pop beginnings are marked by a commitment to form and a cohesive sound. Here she forces herself to confront her guilt, pride and shame in a tempestual whirlwind of confusing emotions. She confronts the thin transience of a seemingly perennial love; I Never Learn is a courageous album, sweeping the briny depths of solemnity with passion and gravitas. Lykke Li frequently claims she never learns. But when whips of love’s immensity slash through the heart’s inky depths, who of us can best its tender wrath?