First stop on this album review, I would like to be the first to point out how eerily similar this:
is to this:
Like, you can basically sing the chorus over the “Twin Peaks” theme.
Stream the entirety of “I Know What Love Isn’t” via The Quietus minus the really beautiful opening piano instrumental WHY WOULD YOU NOT INCLUDE THAT SERIOUSLY.
If you’re a fan of Jens Lekman, or if you have never heard him, or if you think you maybe know who that is but you’re going to youtube search him anyway because you’re not quite sure and oh yeah that guy (I do this all the time), be sure to check out his new album, I Know What Love Isn’t. Adelpheans contributor Gemma and I classified the album as a “definite breakup album,” and there it is. That’s what it is. Jens had his heart broken, and now he’s working through that.
The album is bookended by the most beautiful love song I’ve ever heard in my life, but it’s a sad one, and Jens makes it sadder by making it a stripped down, tinkly piano instrumental to kick the record off. He puts you right where he wants; track one screams breakup album. In my mind, the trajectory is this: he met a girl (named Erica? America? “Erica America”), they fell in love, she broke up with him. At first, he’s all, “Whatever, life is too short and beautiful to live it being in love with someone, gross!” (“Become Someone Else’s”) Then, of course, the next stage is, “Wait, why is she breaking up with me? What can I do? What did I do?” but Jens tells the cold, hard truth to himself (“She Just Don’t Want to Be with You Anymore,” linked above). Then, Jens looks inside himself as to why he might be taking this so hard, and–if you know Jens’ music, you know this already–realizes that maybe a deep-seated, inexplicable sadness has a lot to do with how Jens looks at love (“Some Dandruff On Your Shoulder”–this is a live performance of the song because I couldn’t find the album version, but DAMN, do his vocals in this performance kill me). But a realization like that doesn’t stop Jens from feeling melancholy about this particular girl. She must’ve really done a number on him: she’s haunting his dreams, he’s going out late every night, drinking. He sings a really beautiful, bizarre ballad about trying to stay away from the things that hurt you–including people (“I Want a Pair Of Cowboy Boots”).
But we all know that breakups eventually take a turn for the better. In a disaster-pop diddy, Jens lays the lovewisdom on us: “You don’t get over a broken heart–you just learn to carry it gracefully.” Bad shit happens but things change, people get back up, “The World Moves On”. For me, the highlight of this album is the next song, an up-beat, awesomely produced, seriously back-up-vocaled song about keeping life in perspective. Not only can you dance to it, but you should probably listen to this song, above all the others on the album, because it’s an awesomely hopeful message that retains Jens’ beautiful, simple realism (“The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love”).
Now we get to the title track, “I Know What Love Isn’t”. Jens Lekman is an artist who’s main thing has been Love. He preaches about it, waxes it, desperately seeks it. Gemma is a much bigger Jens fan than I am, and was telling me that on his website there’s a section where you can ask Jens a question, and more often than not, he answers it. Recently, she said he made a post on the site asking people not to ask him about love. Here is a man who’s had his heart broken, presumably through the same means he’s often broken hearts. Here is a man who believes so deeply in something, who believed he had an understanding of something, and has had it all pulled out from under him. He used to know what love was; now he only knows what it isn’t. In true Jens fashion, the rest of the song sounds like a normal conversation between friends–“Let’s go chick-scouting–what kind of girl are you into?” or “Marriages for citizenship are the only honest marriages,” etc.–but the chorus is the heart.
The album ends with the full version of “Every Little Hair Knows Your Name,” which is honestly one of the most beautiful and heart-breaking love songs I’ve ever heard. What I love about Jens is, as I’ve said many times above, his totally “normal” lyrics, but this song opens with a surprisingly poetic first verse. “Every cell in this body has been replaced since I last saw you, but the memory is in the DNA.” Sure, he goes on to reference doing push-ups post breakup (he can do 100, probably 200 if he was bored) and trying to make music post-breakup (another beautiful sentiment–even the chords Jens wants to use seem to be calling someone’s name), and having that totally normal conversation via his lyrics. But, in perhaps the most profound and sentimental statement I’ve heard Jens Lekman make, he leaves us with the idea that, no matter how things end between you, when you love someone, they make it much deeper than your habits, than your thoughts, than any despairing you might have about what it means to love someone–when you love someone, they become ingrained in your body.
One of my favorite Jens lyrics from from “Higher Power”, which is on one of his earlier albums (When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog), he sings, “and I was so in love I thought I knew what love was all about”. I’ve always thought that was so right – when you’re in love you think it’s as clear as it’s ever been. Jens Lekman’s body of work is our evolving understanding of human relationships. ANYWAY.