When world-traveller (Swedish by birth, of course, as most good things are) Lykke Li found her way upon the popular scene in 2008, she was young. She was vulnerable; she was alluring. She spoke with a tarnished innocence and her husky, whispery voice matched, just the same. After all: it was for YOU she kept her legs apart.
In 2011, then, Li has returned after a certainly long-enough absence. Some artists return after a gap and it's like they've been there, the whole time. Nothing's changed. Dust has gathered on their act, tired and routine. However, for Miss Li (not to be confused with that particular singer, also Swedish) things are decidedly different. The innocence is gone. Lykke Li has grown old, before her 20something years.
But with age, comes maturity. Comes a developed sex appeal. She has learned her lessons and she's got her broken heart on display, under the weak protection of her ribs.
"I was born with a broken heart," she said in a revealing interview with Fader magazine, where she detailed the process of getting Wounded Rhymes (even that title alone says it all) recorded. In that time, she was holed up in her native Stockholm* (unhappily) and went through some personal problems (more unhappily). With her new album, the listener is an involved witness with her struggles. You are more or less a part of a slow-motion car crash and it is beautiful.
"Get Some" is an interesting blowjob of a song. That title also does not lie: boy, whoever you are, you gonna get some (lucky boy!) That's why I called it a "blowjob of a song." Like a shotgun....
In that song, Li displays a bravado unforeseen by the likes of her before. She's cocky, she's taking the listener by the genitals and forcing them into submission. Normally, I am wary of such play by a singer. Katy Perry isn't getting in my pants anytime soon, I'll say. But from Lykke, I welcome the domination. And I am sure I am not alone, here.
"I Follow Rivers" is the second single and, for me, the hands-down best track on the album. Why? She's so damned soulful here. She's ripping herself apart for the sake of the song (to borrow a Townes Van Zandt phrase). Li has gone on about the influences of 1960s girl groups and soul music on her own work and here, I think, it's very easily beheld. Of course, she's taken that ante and bumped it up some for audiences a la 2011.
Despite her wailing pleas, Li never comes off as desperate on "I Follow Rivers." She never once swallows her pride. Hell, she doesn't even taste it. She's stating her claim and telling you what exactly she will do. There's no escaping her, nah. But you wouldn't want to, would you?
"Youth Knows No Pain" is oddly playful as it is somewhat bleak, as is "Rich Kid's Blues," (code for when the Olsen Twins realize Starbucks has spiked their prices) which seems more like a wry observation and perhaps a commentary on herself than anything else.
And her lyrics are as sharp as ever. Take "Silent My Song" for instance.
There really is no weak track to single out on Wounded Rhymes. Really. Some songs will take some getting used to, but I can happily say the first listen of this album, I didn't skip a track. And I still haven't. "Jerome" is low and foreboding and what is she doing with a fella named Jerome, anyway?
Like its predecessor, there's a very raw, almost tribal element on this album. Which, I would think, has more to do with her eclectic life than anything else. This woman did spend some time living in Nepal, you know.
Therein, I think we have settled upon one of the best albums of 2011. So early in the game, too! Pain will always make great art and Lykke Li is another footnote to this age-old story. She's gotten older, but she's not irrelevant. And her rhymes might be wounded, but this is a woman bleeding with her head held high.
tracks to hear: "I Follow Rivers," "Youth Knows No Pain"
*I still do not understand how anyone can be unhappy in Stockholm.
p.s. I SHOULD be seeing her live in May. ;)
she's touring, like, everywhere. for real.