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Review of Lykke Li's "I Never Learn"

I Never Learn, the third full-length from Swedish songstress Lykke Li is aptly named. This is a breakup album, and while Li’s lyrics are light on self-loathing, this 28 year-old has the wisdom to recognize her own hand in the way things fell apart. She tells the listener in the second song, straight-up, “I had his heart but I broke it every time.” I Never Learn is deceptively upbeat. Lyrics this devastating are often set to slower, darker songs. The up-tempo nature of these tracks lends an air of acceptance—if not one of peace—to Li’s vocal performance. “Gunshot” could just as easily, with different lyrics, be a song about a relationship beginning instead of ending. “No Rest For the Wicked” has a determined sound to it, rather than a subdued one. “I Never Learn” is more hopeful than not.

With I Never Learn, Lykke Li joins the ranks of artists like Sharon Van Etten and Zola Jesus. While Li has always had a flare for pop (see the infectious “Little Bit”), here she proves she’s just as capable of plumbing the depths of her own romantic failings and emerging with something beautiful to show for all of the pain. Breakup music is its own peculiar subgenre, and this reviewer has to wonder how many mixtapes will sandwich I Never Learn tracks between veritable modern classics like Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well” (“You called me up last night just to break me like a promise/ So casually cruel in the name of being honest”) and Ingrid Michaelson’s “Keep Breathing” (“All that I know is I'm breathing”).

The last track, “Sleeping Alone,” is the record’s most heartbreaking. Li sings, “Save your heart for mine/ We’ll meet again.” It’s not clear if she believes it, or just desperately hopes it. It’s a sentiment everyone has probably had after an ending, and it’s the sort of song that crystallizes Li’s struggle: She knows it’s her own doing (see “Gunshot”) but in her more vulnerable moments, she still misses feeling something other than alone.

It’s a pain as old as time. Li is working on her backwards walk. She knew he was trouble. She’s dancing on her own. She needs him so much closer. She can change. Despite all that’s trite about breakup music, Li touches something very real with I Never Learn. It may not be new material, but it’s deeply messy, achingly human stuff that demands that the listener feel something.

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