For the last decade, Lykke Li has been a pop outlier, singing songs that were too quirky for U.S. radio but catchy enough for under-the-radar success. But on her fourth LP, So Sad So Sexy, she embraces slickly produced pop with open arms, and she’s lost some of her character. Where her early songs sported herky-jerky, danceable rhythms and her heavily Swedish accented vocals and her more recent music sounded like Bic-ready torch songs, much of So Sad So Sexy relies on American-accented trap beats and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it melodies, à la Lorde.
“Deep End,” the record’s first single, has a chorus that recalls Abba and past Lykke Li, but its trap-lite beats, random vocal pauses and an uncomfortable rap where Li says, “I’m in it” over again make it confusing. The next song, “Two Nights,” maintains that vibe and includes a rap by Aminé that has lyrics like, “Don’t be sad, look alive, Lykke/Damn right, she can dance on my damn dickies,” that just seem simpler than what she’d been going for before. “Last Piece” is her Sia song, “Jaguars in the Air” is a Florence Welch–biting exercise in super-fast vocal fricatives that gets brought down by strange special effects that make her voice sound like it’s melting. And “Sex Money Feelings Die,” with its factory-line pop beat, is as generic as the title suggests.
Things pick up in the last third when Li sings ballads that sound modern like the rest of the record but call back to the catchy, unpredictable vocals that were once her calling card. “Better Alone” has a power that makes her lyrics like “Nobody wants to bleed but everybody hurts,” sung in her brittle soprano, sound all the more vulnerable. But the strongest song here is the title cut, a pop tune that has all the melancholy and memorable hooks of Li’s past records, albums that were sad but also satisfying.