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-up
Bearing in mind our tendency to dissect female celebrities’ every move, it comes as no surprise that [a]Lykke Li[/a]’s return has been met with cries of, “What the absolute fuck happened to you?” Those who mistook 2008’s [b]‘Youth Novels’[/b] for a compendium of “little girls’ lullabies” – as one tragically under-attentive reviewer put it – gawped in wonder as Swedish pop’s reluctant princess donned her leathers and sexxxed up for (frankly terrifying) comeback [b]‘Get Some’[/b]. The video sees Lykke Mk II glow with fury; garbed like an occult lady of the night, she makes, er, unambiguous gestures at her crotch while straddling an unsuspecting mic stand. Nursery rhyme this is not.
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.