By Al Kaufman
Sweden’s Lykke Li’s first CD, 2008’s Youth Novels, was nothing more than sugary girl pop. Some of that remains on Wounded Rhymes (“Rich Kid Blues” springs immediately to mind). But Li has done a bit of growing up since then. Wounded Rhymes is full of want, desperation and sex. Yes, these are all basic characteristics that overtake youth, but here they are performed in a more adult manner.
Li has a high-pitched voice that lacks in emotion, but the music more than makes up for that. Wounded Rhymes has a Phil Spector wall of sound to it. It begins to show its face on the single, “I Follow Rivers,” which also merrily steals its organ line from Depeche Mode. However, it is track four, “Unrequited Love,” that makes this CD a game changer. Up until then, Li dishes out some pleasant enough pop. But “Unrequited Love” is a the type of twangy torch song off of which chanteuses such as Neko Case and Sally Timms make their livings. Li’s vocal talents aren’t on Case or Timms’ level, but she comes damn close. It gives the following song, the sex-charged “Get Some,” (“Don’t pull your pants before I go down”) that much more power.
Li does it again with “Sadness Is a Blessing.” The melody, which includes lyrics such as “Sadness is my boyfriend/Oh sadness I’m your girl,” would fit in with any ’60s girl band. She then strips it down for “I Know Places,” in which she tries to urge her drug-addicted boyfriend to come home. The song exposes Li at her most vulnerable point, and is almost religious in its instrumentation. Again, the juxtaposition is powerful.
While Wounded Rhymes is predominantly percussive driven catchy pop that one would come to expect from a country that produced Abba, Li has shown that she has a lot more depth to her.