Review: Jens Lekman, Life Will See You Now

Easily his poppiest record, and so sappy even hardened fans might have a tough time getting through it.
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Easily his poppiest record, and so sappy even hardened fans might have a tough time getting through it.

Jens Lekman is not easy to recommend. Enjoying the Swedish songwriter’s work requires a stomach for the kind of schmaltz scarcely found outside shit like Marley & Me. His Night Falls Over Kortedala is one of the best indie pop records ever made, but in order to enjoy it, you have to be able to swallow lines like “I had a good time at the party after everyone had left/I flirted with a girl in sign language ‘cause she was deaf.” Or “We could start a little farm with little white bunnies/Just 'cause watching them copulate is very funny.” It’s brutal, and fans (like myself) love it, in the same way fans of gore films enjoy watching people get their limbs torn off. It’s so corny it’s almost hardcore. To enjoy this shit, you need a heart of bubblegum or guts of steel. Or both.

This might explain the tepid reaction to his last album, I Know What Love Isn’t, which stripped away the twee-isms and the dancing orchestras he’s known for in favor of stark songs about the transience of love. “I went on tour and it was tough because that album was delicate and sad and understandably not as popular as Night Falls Over Kortedala,” Lekman explained on Facebook. “Some nights it just felt like everyone was waiting to hear the old songs.” His latest and fourth, Life Will See You Now, feels like a remedy. It’s his first with an outside producer (Ewan Pearson), easily his poppiest record, and so sappy even hardened fans might have a tough time getting through it. This thing’s just about the Salò, or the 120 Days Of Sodom of schmaltz.

Mostly gone are the sober pianos of I Know What Love Isn’t and the Enoch Light sampledelia of Kortedala. Life Will See You Now is mostly Euro-folk played at disco tempos, not far removed from what plays over the cooking montages in Ratatouille. There are sad songs, but they’re crammed in the record’s last third, set to its sparest arrangements. The bulk of Life Will See You Now is given up to songs that inevitably sound cheerier than their subjects, light on the heartache and heavy on the cuteness. If you thought the bunnies were bad, wait until you hear him ask to borrow a girl’s bass guitar — before an actual bass guitar plays a conspicuous lick.

The same thing (mimesis, I think it’s called) happens two more times on the album. At one point, Lekman sings about a neighbor knocking, and a conga raps out a door-knocking pattern. Later, he opines, “the wind is like a string section,” and guess what swells out of the background.

After repeated listens, these moments become milestones. When Lekman sings “If I just put this pen to this paper/If I just change the labels on the salt and pepper shaker,” for instance. Or when Lekman’s date (sung by Tracey Thorn) worries he’ll turn their night into a sad song, he reassures her he won’t, and the whole thing devolves into a preposterous boy-girl duet. Or when the teenager the Mormon missionary’s been talking to introduces himself as “Jens,” and the two bond over their existential fears. “I write songs sometimes, but they’re kinda bad,” he frets. Aww!

I hated Life Will See You Now upon my first listen. By my second listen I knew when to brace myself. By my third, I developed a sick sort of love for it. But that love is in no way admiration. This is the least of Lekman’s records, tied with his debut If I Said I Wanted To Be Your Dog, and I’ll probably never listen to it again. If you’re suspicious of the phrase “acquired taste,” stay away from this album. You’d be a fool to play it for friends. But you wouldn’t play a black metal album for those same people, and Life Will See You Now is as extreme in its own way. Listen alone and internalize it until you can pride yourself for getting through the damn thing without cringing. C PLUS