so sad so sexy, the fourth album by Swedish singer Lykke Li is another reinvention for an artist who has covered different sonic terrain on each album. Previous album I Never Learn is the slowest and softest album in Li’s catalog, thriving on its excellent melodies but suffering from a lack of variety. Follow-up so sad so sexy is Li’s most upbeat, most digital, and most poppy album to date.
Though Li had experimented with synthesizers and other electronic elements in the past, here she dives fully into digital mode, leaving behind the guitars, drums, and various stringed instruments for drum machines and synths. Frenetic trap beats propel most of so sad so sexy through its ten songs.
Album opener “Hard Rain” begins with Li’s voice the lone accompaniment for a swirling Shepard tone on synthesizer. Interweaving vocal harmonies then lead the song to its main groove, with bass and rapid hi-hats dropping in. Though Li’s vocal melodies had always been a high point of previous albums, the meandering, unremarkable melody of “Hard Rain” serves as an example of so sad so sexy’s biggest weakness: With more attention paid to beats, less care was given to melody.
“Jaguars in the Air,” the album’s worst song, showcases the worst of so sad so sexy, with its repetitive lyrics and forgettable hooks. Most of the album rises above that level, though. Li’s voice – emotive, resonant, and distinct – is as good as ever, even if it often takes a backseat to the beats. The dance grooves are often catchy, as with the rumbling earwig “Sex Money Feelings Die.”
The slow, brooding title track has Li ending a relationship in heartbreaking fashion. “I was only lying when I looked into your eyes; now I’m lying with you one last time,” she sings over a morose synth line.
In the equally powerful “Better Alone,” Li sings of a disaffected relationship that leaves her feeling lonely and unloved. “Nobody wants to know the ways they don’t love you right,” she sings in the first verse before unloading that unwelcome knowledge in the chorus. “I’m better alone than lonely here with you,” she sings.
“Deep End,” with its skittering trap beats and rhythmic vocals, is one of the best upbeat tracks on the album, but the record is at its best in the slower songs, where Li gives herself space to cry out from the soul. The apologetic “Bad Woman” finds Li pleading, “I’m a bad woman but I’m still your woman” over throbbing synths. “Just don’t go before I show you what’s behind my sorrow,” she sings, “what’s inside all of these bullets I throw.”
So sad so sexy lacks some of the musical artistry of Wounded Rhymes and the intricate melodies of I Never Learn. Its reliance on programmed beats injects some more excitement into Li’s sound but also makes it sound more artificial. For a trap-infused pop album, so sad so sexy is quite good, but still far from the greatness of which Li is capable. Four albums into her career, Lykke Li has explored many different aspects of her song-craft but has yet to fully reach her potential.