“We’re all in this together.” It’s a sentiment that now rings awfullyhollow thanks to its debasement by modern politicians, but when itcomes to matters of the heart, it’s easy to forget that we really areunited – and that pretty much the whole ethos of pop music wouldn’texist without our collective need for emotional empathy, good or bad. Fewrealise this more than Swedish troubadour Jens Lekman, an artist whohas founded a career on exploring the triumphs and travails of love,casting himself as the playful, baroque pop storyteller, tongue oftenfirmly in cheek.
Humour can, of course, often merely mask the most painful feelings,ones that eventually surface and tell. The mournful, derelict pianoinstrumental of Every Little Hair Knows Your Name which opens I KnowWhat Love Isn’t raises eyebrows – all is clearly not well with Jens.The record, his first in five years, is a cri de coeur; we might be inthis together, but that doesn’t mean that love can’t really hurt. It’sa break-up album that doesn’t seek resolution, being more than contentto set out to have a good old wallow, DVD box set on hand, tub of icecream open and resting in lap. Jens has admitted that the album wastherapeutic, that “closure is kind of like a modern invention, and Idon’t really believe in it – I think it’s something that createscharacter if you learn to carry the broken heart”.
Sitting at the heart of the record – emotionally as well as in runningorder – is She Just Doesn’t Want To Be With You Anymore, a selfexplanatory title if ever there was one. Jens is the trusted friendgiving the merciful “it’s for your own good, mate” counsel, a candourreflected musically as a steady drum machine is counterpointed by awheeling, sumptuous chorus melody and lovelorn flutes. For itsdisarmingly noble emotional disclosure it’s one of Jens’s best eversongs. Still, apart from revisiting the opener, with clever biologicallyrical conceit, and I Want A Pair of Cowboy Boots, that’s as far asthe overt heartbreak goes – Jens unable to fully commit to the loss ofcommitment, bearing his burden fairly easily. There are lyrical nodselsewhere – Some Dandruff on Your Shoulder is a clever, typically dryaccount of a trapped boyfriend trying to end a relationship: “Maybe aletter of resignation if you’d frame it and leave it burning on yourwall?”; a song for the one breaking hearts instead of being hurt. TheWorld Moves On also references the theme of soldiering on, as well asquotidian rejection – the narrator introduced as a friend by a loverat a social function – but it’s buried in a six minute tale of wanderingand wondering, all wry, almost twee, observation.
Musical and lyrical preoccupations rarely fuse together with real elanas in that central, pivotal song. Instead, Jens sticks to what heknows, combining his spry guitar playing and razor sharp popsensibility – one drawn from more limited instrumentation than theorchestral sweep of previous LP Night Falls Over Kortedala – with aquirky Paul Simon lyricism as he muses on, well, anythingreally using love as a starting point. Erica America is a smooth, ’80sFleetwood Mac quickstep of a song, with violins, stabs of pianoand a shimmering saxophone solo, the scene set as “they demolished theFrontier Casino and the day after the air smelt like popcorn andladies perfume / Sinatra had his shit figured out I presume”. BecomeSomeone Else’s repeats the trick, a warm barroom piano bolstering anarrator who’d “Rather be a flat stone skipping across the ocean whenthe Melbourne summer is endless” than be tied down to a relationship.Such thoughts often fly in the face of the record’s aim, but in themoment it’s easy not to care.
Still, there’s no shame in reverting to type – Jens might not knowwhat love is yet, but he certainly knows what pop is. That remains hiskey strength and as much as he may have set out to explore the rawnessof a breakup he remains immutably whimsical and playful. As his lostlove can’t suppress this they may therefore not have been “the one”,and the record isn’t either, unfortunately. But, like the perfectsoulmate, the record of his career is out there somewhere, and Jens iscapable of finding it.