Does pop need any new songs about heartbreak? Probably not.
But we never learn. And if we are doomed to repeat our own bad romances, it helps to know that pop stars are going through their own rough patches too. We pay them for their empathetic succour, after all. They deliver it in three-minute doses, which certainly beats the seven allotted by an NHS GP. Li’s last album, Wounded Rhymes, contained no breakout single; it sold only 97k in the US, but it was one of the great break-up albums of recent times.
So if Wounded Rhymes was occasionally derivative, it was hugely involving – full of drama, lyrical candour and sing-along tunes, all delivered in Li’s distinctive voice. Li’s follow-up shut the door firmly on innocence, and uppercut you with the idea of love as a blood sport. There is no small irony in the fact that, if you do know a song from Wounded Rhymes, it will probably be the Magician house remix of I Follow Rivers, or the controversial boogie of Get Some, in which Li compares herself to a prostitute. She was being figurative.
Third time around, the 28-year-old Swede is still bouncing around a big, satisfying echo chamber of spacious production: heartbreak, after all, feels this magnified. This time, though, there is less playfulness, and no tribal girl-group shimmying. Every track on I Never Learn is a massive torch song. This is heartbreak squared, romantic pain for breakfast, lunch and afters; not everyone will be able to stomach it. Nine tracks make reference to hearts of steel and being made of stone, sleeping alone and never loving again. You are either in the mood for this depth of wallowing or you are not. Li’s misery is so all-encompassing, she can’t face the palaver of treating the material in different ways. It’s just sad and big.
There is a corresponding loss of eccentricity. Never Gonna Love Again starts out with the treated shimmer of This Mortal Coil’s cover of Song To The Siren but it quickly ends up sounding more like a power ballad. The market for big, sad love songs is, however, far larger and more lucrative than the market for left-field passive aggression, no matter how superbly turned. And so it will be fascinating to see how far Li’s lovelessness gets her.