“Get Some,” the aggressive, sexually-charged first single from Lykke Li’s second album, Wounded Rhymes, is currently providing the soundtrack to a bevy of buxom, lingerie-clad models in a Victoria’s Secret commercial. We probably should have seen this coming. The song’s up-front lasciviousness, coupled with a video depicting dark and disturbing imagery (including Li wearing a costume outfitted with crotch spikes), clearly marked the point at which the Swedish singer entered into a decidedly more “adult” realm. Her refrain of “I’ll be your prostitute/ you gon’ get some” is only a shade less blunt than “I wanna fuck you like an animal,” but no less direct. Clearly, a lot has changed in three years.
In the run-up to the release of Wounded Rhymes, Li very openly expressed her frustration with being viewed as an innocent or girlish artist, and “Get Some” was just the first step on a path to distance herself from that image. On Wounded Rhymes, Li does away with the playfully coy side of her songwriting, as heard in tracks like “Dance, Dance, Dance” or “Let It Fall,” instead pursuing a maturity and a boldness at which she most closely hinted on singles like “Little Bit” and “I’m Good I’m Gone.” Partnered again with producer Bjorn Yttling (also of Peter Bjorn and John), Li sounds vastly more confident on this round, delivering a 10-song set with all of the energy and excitement of youth, but practically none of the awkwardness.
In a stark contrast to the spare, jazzy sound of Youth Novels‘ first track, “Dance, Dance, Dance,” Wounded Rhymes‘ opener “Youth Knows No Pain” opens with as much drama and bombast as possible, firing up a psychedelic organ riff and blazing a trail of badass swagger and a whole lot of fun. While Li had recently stated in an interview that having a high-pitched voice put her at the disadvantage of having a little-girl image, the diva that beckons, “C’mon honey blow yourself to pieces” is the sound of a powerful woman. And that hold true throughout the album, though Li doesn’t sound at all affected. Nor does the music on Wounded Rhymes sound miles apart from that of its predecessor. It’s merely a stronger, tougher improvement on an already good start.
As brazen and, erm, spiky, as Li sounds on many of the standout tracks here, she likewise isn’t afraid to show an honest, vulnerable side. “I Follow Rivers” is a simple but profound expression of love and trust, as well as one of the album’s melodic standouts, as Yttling backs Li’s commanding vocals with an odd arrangement driven by what could be thumb piano, though that’s anyone’s guess. Similarly “Love Out of Lust” is a heartbreaking ballad with some of Li’s most cleverly touching lyrics: “We will live longer than I will/ We will be better than I was.” And on the stripped-down acoustic ballad “I Know Places,” Li’s voice takes on a more soothing quality, implicitly drawing a parallel to the comfort that she finds in the secret places of which she sings.
Some of Wounded Rhymes is youthful sneer and carnal desire, and some of it is open-hearted and tender. Some of it is brash and exuberant, and some of it is intimate and haunting. But all of it is very human, and beautifully written, a compelling document from a singer who has grown more adventurous with age.
Video: “I Follow Rivers”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.