In the same way that there’s a sick appeal to anti-heroes in television and film, there’s a lot of somewhat perverse satisfaction to be gleaned from break-up albums. We’ve all been there, we’ve all imagined those who wronged us suffering for what they’ve done, and we’ve all mourned in self-indulgent, embarrassing ways. And to observe someone else feel the same way, and express something so undeniably raw and human, it reminds us that we’re not alone.
For all intents and purposes, despite it lacking a larger concept or ongoing theme, Wounded Rhymes is a break-up album, if not an unusual one. The transformation of Lykke Li from indie pop princess to an ordinary sad sack is jarring and undeniably powerful. Shreds of Li’s 60’s pop-inspired and garage rock reverberations remain but with sardonic and self-deprecating overtones as indicated from the beginning of the album with a rallying cry of “youth knows no pain.”
The departure from standard break-up albums continues with the record’s consistently impressive hooks. There are no weak cuts, and half the album could have been sunny top-40 bait with simple lyrical substitution. “I Follow Rivers” and “Get Some” represent the early singles and some ongoing strong melodic chops; this is echo-laden Swede-pop at it’s most convincing, layered in harmonies and ambitious percussion. The juxtaposition of this spunky music with its dark lyrical content is where Li really bears her teeth, however, on lines dosed with heavy facetiousness like, “I’m your prostitute/you’re gonna get some” over surf-rock guitars and dance floor syncopations.
The other half of the record is downright heartbreaking. “Twice the pain, the suffering/oh this love is unrequited” bemoans Li on “Unrequited Love” over a simple guitar arpeggio. “My wounded rhymes make silent cries tonight” introduces “Sadness Is A Blessing”, one of the record’s bittersweet highlights. Some of her observations upon first glance seem a bit trite: “Sadness is my boyfriend, oh sadness I’m your girl”, but coupled with her ferocity from earlier in the record, we see the contextual progress of going from scorned and angry to broken down and miserable: “I’m screaming at nothing”. There’s no perceived light at the end of the tunnel as the album closes with the admission “you silent my song” over and over before the music goes quiet.
There’s a sad magnificence to Li’s songs, and a force pushing her voice forward that’s simply astounding. Her music balances the accessible outer pop shell with a deeply disturbed melancholy core creating a record that’s thoroughly enticing with each and every listen, and already one of the best of the year.