I Never Learn, the third album by Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li, is steeped in despair — in particular, the kind brought about by breaking up with a lover (and “the shame and the guilt and the sadness and the regret” Li said, in an interview with Pitchfork, she experienced along with it). Her grief is neither small nor tidy. For 33 minutes, she indulges herself completely, devoting every lyric to her loss and loneliness. Sonically, the album is equally all encompassing, nearly every note awash with reverb. Li’s voice, which was breathy and borderline twee on her earlier, more pop-oriented work, is somber and powerful here, but the instrumentation is so loud, sometimes even she is dwarfed by it.
At base, however, these are beautiful, sweeping ballads. Every song is gorgeously lush and haunting. As is her style, Li’s lyrics are relatable and affecting. Grand songs with catchy refrains such as “Never Gonna Love Again,” “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone,” and “No Rest for the Wicked” are anthems for the lovelorn and distressed. It’s easy to imagine them being played on repeat by someone crumpled up on his or her bedroom floor. But taken together, the songs feel unrelenting and a bit overblown.
Listening to I Never Learn is an immersive experience. If that was Li’s intention, she certainly succeeded. But because the album fails to offer even the slightest glimmer of hope or reprieve, it’s hard to fully enjoy. (LL Recordings)