Hear Me Out: Lykke Li, Lily Allen

By Chris Azzopardi

Lykke Li, 'I Never Learn'

Because it's Lykke Li, heartache is the obvious impetus for "I Never Learn," a ceaseless outpouring of dire, pillow-soaked woe inspired by the Swedish singer's very public post-breakup brokenness. Though best known for her "Twilight: New Moon" ballad, "Possibility," that anguish has been Li's modus operandi since her 2008 debut, "Youth Novels" (it's telling that the follow-up was called "Wounded Rhymes"). But here, especially, Li is sprawled on the floor in pieces, dead. Lamenting how she's "Never Gonna Love Again" over a rush of melancholy atmospherics, the song is undeniably suited for radio, no matter how un-pop Li claims to be. Similarly ethereal is "Just Like a Dream," an orchestral torch-song serenade best heard with the lights out, in the quiet of the night. Like a lot of "I Never Learn," "Dream" conveys emotional conflict. What she should do isn't what she wants to do: "I'm letting you go, I'm setting you free." On "Silverline," the dankness counters her quest for hope, as she pleads, "be grace, I need it" ... and the cold percussion prevails. This circle of self-defeating torment doesn't allow for a break in the clouds; Li's headspace is constantly flooded with fears and doubts, and only on the beautifully lovelorn coda "Sleeping Alone" does she sound like she might save herself. All nine songs are engulfed in dispirited tragedy, but Li's vulnerable authenticity goes a long way toward making "I Never Learn" a hopelessly sad catharsis of moving on and letting go. Grade: A-

Lily Allen, 'Sheezus'

Lily Allen has always been accused of being a pop-music contradiction, a tart who wields the same genre cliches she mocks. Since releasing her 2006 debut "Alright, Still," that's been the draw: Allen's the antithesis of everything popular, even though she is popular. Some stars prefer to keep their mouths shut, standing quietly on elevators, but not this one. Lily is forthright and unfiltered, and yet, there's still something elusive about this Londoner. Is she panning or praising her female contemporaries on that "Sheezus" title track? Does she hate Beyonce? Who hates Beyonce? Where's the Beygency?! It's refreshing to hear Lily leave a little to the imagination (not much, though - she loves to tell you about her period). Her ambiguity incites an inner dialogue - "What does Lily really think?" - that makes "Sheezus" an amusing tease track. True to her haughty persona, "Hard Out Here" bemoans that a girl can't catch a break. It's a fun little feminist anthem, and it's ludicrous that it's buried at the tail-end. Also spunky is "Our Time," a spirited moment of party liberation that breaks from Allen's perpetual grumblings on, well, just about everyone. Motherhood hasn't zapped Allen's lyrical zing, but musically, too many of these songs dawdle into nothingness. Despite previously mentioned standouts, how something so inconsistently throwaway was produced by top-tier pop producer Greg Kurstin is mind-boggling. When it comes down to it, "Sheezus" needs a Jesus. Grade: C+

Also Out

Natalie Merchant, 'Natalie Merchant'

Natalie Merchant hasn't released original music since "Motherland." That's 13 years without the melancholic distress of the songwriter's self-scribed musings. With this self-titled release, Merchant makes up for lost time, recording relentlessly funereal reflections on grief, addiction and global catastrophe that are satisfyingly grim. "The End" is a string-infused war ballad, "Lulu" beautifully tributes late film star Louise Brooks, and "Ladybird" is Merchant at her '90s girl-pop zenith. Welcome back, bleakness.

Disclosure, 'Settle'

When a fire starts to burn, you put it out ... right? If you're the UK duo who snatched a Grammy nod for your polished dance debut, "Settle," though, you let it burn. Still charting with "Latch," a new deluxe edition offers more from the house-beat builders behind the Jessie Ware-assisted "Confess to Me" and the drum-heavy "You & Me." Supplementing the original release are "Together," a funky Prince-era jam, and a second version of "F for You" with, of all people, Mary J. Blige, who throws down and takes you to Babylon.

Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com.
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