ALBUM REVIEW: “I Know What Love Isn’t” by Jens Lekman

September 04. 2012 | By Mayumi Okamoto

Jens Lekman
I Know What Love Isn’t
[Secretly Canadian]

Master storyteller Jens Lekman returns with his third full-length album, I Know What Love Isn’t, his most honest and heartbreaking album to date. Lekman is a lyrical therapist who crafts songs that are equally self-medicating as they are comforting to hear. He possesses a distinctive knack for personable songwriting as he draws on his own misfortunes to reassure others who are going through similar experiences — a familiar dynamic as Lekman often counsels fans on personal matters via email. This basic background is important to understand if you’re unfamiliar with Jens Lekman. Without it, you may become impatient and think that Lekman’s songs are sad for the sake of being sad. They most definitely are not.

I Know What Love Isn’t opens with an introspective piano instrumental (“Every Little Hair Knows Your Name”) establishing the grey undertone woven throughout the album. The pace ebbs and flows and the latter third of the album, beginning with “The World Moves On,” is an exercise in wordsmithing as Lekman jokes, “no one’s born an asshole / it takes a lot of hard work / and God knows I work my ass off to be a jerk.” The album’s title track is catchy with its lighthearted melodies and serious examination of Lekman’s successes and failures with love — with his most successful relationship being one with a platonic friend to whom he proposed to gain US citizenship.

Intellectually, it seems odd to take comfort in listening to someone else’s despair, but there is something instinctually consoling about I Know What Love Isn’t. It’s as if two people are commiserating over a common tale of woe with Lekman offering up some of his best advice, “you don’t get over a broken heart, you just learn to carry it gracefully.” Well said, Jens. Well said.

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