There are standards in heartbreak songs, and Lykke Li is brushing them aside. This is breakup music for those less likely to set fire to the rain. I Never Learn, as its self-chastising titled suggests, is for people like its creator, who left her home in Sweden for Los Angeles and turn to astrology to explain the turmoil.
This is inescapably the outpouring of feeling after a relationship comes to a terrible end. It’s brutally clear what’s going on in the song titles alone. The album concludes with “Never Gonna Love Again,” “Heart of Steel” and “Sleeping Alone.” In these, Li shines in her strange way of making you feel her pain. “Never Gonna Love Again” has ascending chord progressions that suggest something more uplifting than the lyrics indicate — same for the “Heart of Steel” choir. The last one, with its dark piano chords, is another story. There’s not much to obscure her mournful, “Can I forget you? / Will I get used to sleeping alone?”
I Never Learn balances the plaintive piano and acoustic guitar with clattering, metallic drums and reverb-coated vocals. It’s not the standard way of expressing heartbreak in song, where studio sheen is dismissed in favor of acoustic “authenticity.” Li doesn’t shy away from making something uplifting out of pain. “Gunshot” is the closest Li comes to her biggest hit, “I Follow Rivers,” soaring and crashing in an invitation to raise your hands. “Just Like A Dream” is similarly grand, using studio tricks to turn what is a simple ballad at its core into something more stunning. It’s a reminder that Li is still a pop star, of sorts.
It doesn’t really matter what she is, though. I Never Learn shows her as painfully human, and it sounds supernaturally lovely.