Lykke Li's 'I Never Learn': What the Critics Are Saying
The Swedish singer-songwriter’s third album looks to be the charm, with an all-out push to establish her as a worldwide artist.
Recording with producers Bjorn Yttling and stateside popmeister Greg Kurstin, Lykke Li’s third studio album, I Never Learn, on her own LL Recordings, is the final entry in her thematically linked trilogy. The album was announced with a short film directed by Tarik Saleh and features actor Fares Fares, both of whom are frequent collaborators. The Saleh-directed video for the track, “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone,” was released in the first week of March.
In an interview with the NME in January, Li said the album is “about me and the guilt and the shame and the hurt and the pride and the confusion of being a woman … As a woman you get judged for appearances or things like that I don’t really care about. If anything, I want to be seen as a singer-songwriter rather than a pop artist. I really feel like I’ve found my voice.”
The critics seem to agree with the 28-year-old artist’s self-assessment. The L.A. Times’ Randall Roberts says her key third album “suggests an artist just hitting her stride … [it] seems to have pinpointed the locus of power in her voice.” He says “she’s at her best” on “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone,” calling it a “forged-from-marble ballad that felt timeless the first time I heard it … the song’s a hands-and-knees plea from a soul aching for love in its purest form, one whose desire for honesty is captured in her raw, open emotion.”
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“I Never Learn is both spartan and expansive,” writes Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen in his 8.4 rated review. “It’s Li’s most ambitious and shortest album … This is widescreen drama meant to hit with direct and precise impact.”
The N.Y. Times’ Jon Caramanica calls the “breakup” album “harsh, unyielding stuff … most of the time here Lykke Li paints herself as the one who dropped the ball, the one who’s earned all the ire and distaste a partner can muster,” while calling her “different strategy of sadness … a surprisingly effective one.”
Rolling Stone critic Sophie Weiner’s three-and-a-half star review says the new disc “confronts a more deliberate truth, with melancholy songs full of heartbreak, disillusion and redemption,” pointing out “some of them are almost anthems,” concluding, “If Lykke Li keeps refining her voice, she’ll soon rank as an A-list pop heart-crusher.”
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“I Never Learn works best in small doses,” admits The Guardian U.K.’s Michael Hann, a lone dissenter. “It’s as one-paced as a fading lower-division central defender, and that pace is sluggish … the lyrics are often incomprehensible, whole syllables getting swallowed.” He does conclude, though, “the best moments are magical,” comparing her to This Mortal Coil soundtracking an ‘80s Tom Cruise movie, equal parts mystical and blindingly obvious.”