Heartache made sexy

Swedish singer Lykke Li mines sadness for infinite beauty in her fourth album So Sad So Sexy.
Swedish singer Lykke Li mines sadness for infinite beauty in her fourth album So Sad So Sexy.PHOTO: SUB POP

For an artist who a decade ago heralded the wave of so-called gloom-pop (Lana Del Rey, The Weeknd, Sampha) with her debut album Youth Novels, Lykke Li's latest and fourth record skids close to that purgatorial state: "Now what?"

So Sad So Sexy captures the near-parody of her art - sadness to be mined for infinite beauty and big-time sensuality. Having traded in a sort of coquettish balladry delivered with bodacious beats and cinema-scopic emotions, this is the 30-something Li at the crossroads.

Now based in Los Angeles, the Swedish singer became a mother in 2016, giving birth to her son Dion with her partner, Grammy-winning producer Jeff Bhasker. A year later, her mother, photographer Karsti Stiege, died after a short illness.

Determined to leave behind her indie days, Li is working with an illustrious roster of co-producers and writers, namely Malay, Rostam Batmanglij, Skrillex, Kid Harpoon and T-Minus as well as Bhasker, for a sound marinated in trendy alt-R&B.

The results are glossy and yes, sexy, but the heart is somewhat insatiate. Make no mistake, she still has that enviable knack for a stadium-sized singalong, but the words, well, don't cut as deep.

Blame it on the LA-ification of her newly minted sound, pivoted on generic hooks and turns of phrase that get you flustered, but still looking red-carpet fabulous.

  • Swedish singer Lykke Li mines sadness for infinite beauty in her fourth album So Sad So Sexy.



    Lykke Li


    3.5 stars

"So sad so sexy," she demurs in the title track, ostensibly about a relationship gone sour.

It's instantly memorable - you'd chant along to the chorus without knowing what happened or even really caring to find out.

The following tracks - Better Alone and Bad Woman - follow the same formula, tipping to the near-sadomasochistic cycle of love and abuse.

"I'm better alone than lonely," she announces, as a swirl of trap-influenced tics - all sub-heavy synth bass and dubstep dips - envelops her in the former track.

"I'm a bad woman/But I'm still your woman," she declares in the latter, which provides zero illuminating detail other than sleek, thumping beats standing in for the heartache.

Much better is the single Hard Rain as she dives deep into the tug of war. Steeped in shimmering synths and a steady, R&B undertow, it's Li in her element. Oozing kohl-eyed charisma, she fillips and wallows: "It's my fault we lost it/And look at us now, us is holding us hostage."

Luminescent clarity is espied in Utopia, the matrilineal tribute tagged as "mother to mother to mother" in the music video released on Mother's Day. Containing footage of her own childhood as well as new images of her own son, the song is a stirring portraiture of love across generations.

"You won't bow out, you won't run out, when all my s**t's out," she sings, all the darkness and light compressed in a realisation that one must savour love when one can.

Love lasts by not lasting, says poet Jack Gilbert and Li intuits that wisdom perfectly.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2018, with the headline 'Heartache made sexy'. Print Edition | Subscribe