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Swedish singer Jens Lekman sings of happy, sad songs

Jens Lekman's retrolicious sound is jazzed up with unlikely and unfashionable flourishes.
Jens Lekman's retrolicious sound is jazzed up with unlikely and unfashionable flourishes.PHOTO: SECRETLY CANADIAN

Swedish singer Jens Lekman laughs with, and at, heartache in his fourth album, Life Will See You Now

There are fewer pleasures in life than hanging out with a bosom buddy, shooting the breeze, drinking, doing something naughty.

At least, that appears to be the case with Swedish troubadour Jens Lekman and his English pal, Tracey Thorn, one-half of dormant English pop duo Everything But The Girl.

On Hotwire The Ferris Wheel, the jaunty third track in Lekman's fourth and excellent record Life Will See You Now, the two share a conspiratorial moment.

"Let's do something illegal/Let's get ourselves in trouble/Let's just live a little," he eggs her on, as they, escaping the tedium of life, relish the temporary joys of a fairground. They have decided to "hotwire the Ferris wheel".

  • INDIE POP

  • Jens Lekman's retrolicious sound is jazzed up with unlikely and unfashionable flourishes.LIFE WILL SEE YOU NOW

    Jens Lekman

    Secretly Canadian

    4/5 stars

Thorn sings in her aged but still caramel drawl: "If you're gonna write a song about this, then please don't make it a sad song."

It is a bittersweet pop zinger that captures the sublime ironies of the latter-day works of Lekman and Thorn.

Lekman, 36, and Thorn, 54, are acutely aware of human foibles now that they are old enough to look back at youth. Lekman, particularly, has come into his own.

Coming almost five years after his break-up album, 2012's I Know What Love Isn't, he has kept himself busy. He wrote and released a song every week as part of his Postcards project in 2015 and even penned tracks based on fan-submitted stories and music samples.

Life Will See You Now is the culmination of all the efforts to get away from heartache and realising that the only way to deal with it is to laugh with it, at it. This means making sad songs sound happy.

Thanks to producer Ewan Pearson, his retrolicious sound has been jazzed up with unlikely and unfashionable flourishes.

An unrequited romance, What's That Perfume That You Wear?, cribs 1970s steel-pan samples from soft-rock percussionist Ralph MacDonald, and the tellingly descriptive Our First Fight rides on a samba groove.

In his speak-sing, non-alpha- male croon, Lekman pleads, confesses, does all things to get the attention of his subject - but to no avail. You laugh, you cry.

In the hand-clapping, calypso doozie Wedding In Finistere, he encounters a bride at a pier who has second thoughts about marriage.

"Is this where the world ends?" she asks. He replies: "Marry and regret it/Don't marry, regret it too/Whether you marry or you don't/Either way you'll wish you hadn't." You laugh again, cry even more.

Another sad-happy missive is How Can I Tell Him, a bromance that dares not speak its name. Lekman, who is legendary for his dedications to actual girlfriends and female pals, takes on the nuances of same-sex etiquette.

"He's my best friend/And we can talk about anything/As long as it's about nothing," he confesses in a heartbreaker over finely plugged strings and gentle ivories.

It is the dry humour that makes the desperation ache even more and makes everybody culpable in their own fates.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2017, with the headline 'Happy, sad songs'. Print Edition | Subscribe