Album Review: Lykke Li - Wounded Rhymes (LL Recordings/ Atlantic)
If people mistook her for sweet as molasses last time, the Swedish lioness is back to prove them all wrong with a fiery follow-upMore on Lykke Li
Of course, for those who looked beyond the cosy oriental-folk exterior of her debut, the signs were always there: “For you I keep my legs apart/And forget about my tainted heart”, she muttered on [b]‘Little Bit’[/b], a moment of poetic honesty typical of a disarming, rough-hewn record. But until now she has been a quiet storm, shrouding quaint musical scenery with a lyrical chill, never threatening to upturn houses or blow doors off.
Older and wiser, [b]‘Wounded Rhymes’[/b] is a calculated effort to set the record straight – a subversive statement of fiery female intent from the last voice you might have expected. For all her feisty panache, Lykke is something of a lioness trapped in the body of a neutered kitten.
We could extol the virtues of subtlety all day – and boy, do some bands need that lecture – but there’s nothing quite like the one-two punch of murky gloom and friskiness on offer here. “I’m your prostitute/And you gon’ get some”, Lykke informs her subject on that comeback single with a delicious growl. Attention-seeking in the very best sense, she shamelessly harnesses the “pussy power” (her words in a recent interview) bestowed upon her, exerting a feminist authority that dismisses lazy stereotypes of songwriter ladies with a cocky cool. Grinderman, get your backs against that wall.
Having veritably incinerated her bra, Lykke comes for your cockles with [b]‘Unrequited Love’[/b]. Accompanied only by delicate electric guitar, her plaintive coo adds weighty emphasis to a typically heart-wrenching lyric: “Another stitch to my wound/Another inch in this dwell/I know it all too well”. Few pop singers would feel comfortable with such a bare backdrop, yet Lykke is in her element, showcasing a boldness that the album’s in-your-face cuts lack.
If you don’t already know [b]‘I Follow Rivers’[/b] (‘True Blue’-era Madonna chasing The Knife through the jungle) you’re signed up to the wrong blogs (or have a life outside the internet?). Meanwhile [b]‘Love Out Of Lust’[/b] – the twilight slow-dance tune [a]Joy Division[/a] never wrote – morphs [b]‘Youth Novels’’[/b] chirps of “dance, dance, dance” into anguish: “dance while you can... ’cause you must”. In an age in which majors consider artists waiting two years between pop albums grounds for divorce, [a]Lykke Li[/a] is that rarest of creatures – an antidotal popster blooming on a self-run label, free to evolve as she sees fit.
Her growing pains make for a fascinating listen, but without the dichotomy of treacly shy husk and voracious lyrical bite that made [b]‘Youth Novels’[/b] so intriguing, this can be a harder record to love than its predecessor. Ultimately, for all its wailing codas, swollen strings and silky production, [b]‘Wounded Rhymes’[/b], while a bold statement, doesn’t quite strike the same lugubrious groove. But while we bemoan flash-in-the-pan pop stars, it’s encouraging to see someone like Lykke sparking attention. The simple fact she’s intent on change makes her and the rest of her career infinitely more intriguing.
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