Presenting the I Never Learn drinking game: every time Lykke Li‘s voice cracks, take a shot. Every time you find yourself unable to function on account of a haunting melody, take a shot. Every time a line wounds you, every time you stifle a heartbroken wail, take a shot.
Chances are you’ll be quite bleary-eyed by track three, either from inebriation or emotion. What we’ve seen and heard already gives us a fair indication where Li’s been heading – while we’re all still suffering the Wounded Rhymes hangover, this album’s first offering Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone continued that journey of relentlessly raw, exposed emotion (super-raw in the case of this particular song, given it appears on the album still in demo form).
Of course, Li hasn’t lost her penchant for melodrama – opener I Never Learn is all strings and spaghetti western guitar, keeping in with the gloom-wop perfected on the previous album. Even sombre songs like Gunshot are wrapped in sweeping orchestration, but the most affecting moments come unexpectedly – take the incredible No Rest For The Wicked, where it’s the straight-up admission “I let my good one down/ I let my true love down” that sears more than anything. Elsewhere, the chorus of Silver Line and the coda of Just Like A Dream keep you swept up in the maelstrom of hardcore feels.
And then comes the knockout. “Baby can you hear the rainfall on me?” starts Never Gonna Love Again, a stadium-sized smash, absolutely decimating in the way it sells its dichotomy of despondent lyrics with rousing drums. It’s quite possibly one of the best songs Lykke Li has ever produced, and ought to achieve the same heights Sadness Is A Blessing did before it. The album could well have ended there, like a tragic arthouse film, but mercifully Li stops us fashioning a noose and serves up a bit of optimism with closer Sleeping Alone.
While we can only hope it achieves the same commercial success, the nearest comparison to I Never Learn feels like Adele‘s seminal 21. Not since that album has pain felt so personal and relatable; the way Lykke Li mines heartbreak to create such an intense experience is something a lot of modern artistes – pop or otherwise – would do well to trace. Desolation might be the name of the game, but it has built in its stead an indelible masterpiece.