I Know What Love Isn’t
Aug 31, 2012 Web Exclusive
Whether singing over schmaltzy disco beats or lovely strings, Jens Lekman could always be counted on for a good time. Few lyricists have his ability to mix drama and humor, and few songwriters could match his way with dynamic song structures. I Know What Love Isn't is a breakup record, and though it still aches with hope, it strips Lekman of his greatest strengths.
The best track on I Know What Love Isn't is actually the most emotionally straightforward, the despondent "She Just Don't Want You Anymore." The song features a bracing piano loop occasionally pierced by a mournful horn that sounds like the call of a nighttime bird. "She Just Don't Want You Anymore" finds the wounds open, the hurt deep, and shows how great I Know What Love Isn't could have been had it committed fully to the idea of being an expression of true sadness.
Instead, Lekman puts on a happy face and tries to recapture the energy of some of his past, and the results often feel incomplete. "The World Moves On" comes closest to the territory of 2007's Night Falls Over Kortedala, and it sounds a bit as if Lekman's closing the door on that record when he says, "And the sun rose over the city/The wind swept through the valley." In spite of some wonderful imagery (especially "They demolished the Frontier casino/the day after/the air smelled like popcorn and/ladies' perfume.") the lead single "Erica America" never gets off the ground, sounding somewhat like a Sufjan Stevens outtake. A sprightly piano cannot make "Become Someone Else's" feel much more than repetitive.
But the key ingredient that's missing is Lekman's trademark humor, and carefully constructed turns of phrase. He still packs dense short stories into each track, but without the humor the drama sometimes falls flat. Only when he fully commits to the sadness, on "She Just Don't Want You Anymore" and "I Want a Pair of Cowboy Boots," which, not coincidentally, are the exact center of the record. If only Lekman had surrounded them with more of the same. (www.jenslekman.com)
Author rating: 6/10
Average reader rating: 7/10