TERRY GROSS, HOST:
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(SOUNDBITE OF JENS LEKMAN SONG, "WEDDING IN FINISTERE")
GROSS: Our rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the latest album by Swedish singer-songwriter Jens Lekman. It's called "Life Will See You Now." Ken says Lekman's very popular in Europe, and his previous three albums filled with autobiographical musings have gained a solid cult following in this country. Here's Ken's review.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEDDING IN FINISTERE")
JENS LEKMAN: (Singing) I was booked for a wedding on the coast of Finistere. After the rehearsal, I took a walk down to the harbor. They say this is where the world ends or maybe where it's beginning.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Jens Lekman writes love songs, some of them the kind of first-person declarations of passion we expect from a singer-songwriter. They're distinguished by unexpected metaphors and a musical style that owes more to pop, disco and hip-hop than it does to rock or folk. But more often on this new album "Life Will See You Now," Lekman is writing love songs whose boundaries extend beyond himself. Listen to the start of a remarkable composition, "Evening Prayer," about encountering a friend who has just printed out a 3D model of a tumor removed from his body.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVENING PRAYER")
LEKMAN: (Singing) At Babak's school, there is a 3D printer, and he prints out a model of the tumor that was surgically removed from his back this winter. In its rugged gray plastic, it looks lunar. He puts the tumor in his breast pocket as we head out for a beer. It's been a long, hard year for a friend who's not sure if he's close enough to be allowed to care or just be there to include you in his evening prayer.
TUCKER: "Evening Prayer," with its peppy, disco beat is about a friend in need of connection to other people in part to take his mind off his own health problems. Lekman is singing about someone with a generous, hearty spirit described with an admiration emphasized by the music, with its warm, cozy rhythm and the cooing scat singing of the backup vocalists. This is one of the strengths of "Life Will See You Now" - the way Lekman writes songs about isolation and various sorts of pain by creating vivid scenes such as this one, "Hotwire The Ferris Wheel."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOTWIRE THE FERRIS WHEEL")
LEKMAN: (Singing) Lately you've been a wreck. Life called. It wanted its dreams back. I'm here if you want to chat or just keep my mouth shut if you prefer that. The lonely cry of a seagull, I say let's do something illegal. Let's get ourselves in trouble. Let's just live a little.
TUCKER: Lekman croons along with the vocals of the wonderful British singer Tracey Thorn a jazzy, moody melody. He uses the image of sneaking into an amusement park to hotwire a Ferris wheel to do something illegal, as he puts it, to feel more alive. He acknowledges his use of this anecdote which may or may not be true as a prompt for songwriting when he sings, you say if you're going to write a song about this, then please don't make it a sad song. And he doesn't make it a sad song. It's sweet and catchy and a little poignant. Elsewhere, Lekman has a Marcel Proust moment with a bottle of perfume, again skirting sadness with a melody that contrasts with the lyrics.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'S THAT PERFUME THAT YOU WEAR?")
LEKMAN: (Singing) What's that perfume that you wear? It brings me back somewhere to the anticipation before I kissed someone. It's got a sadness in it knowing how it ended, a promise of something so sweet that never could be. And it smells so good, that sandalwood.
TUCKER: The song that may well sum up Lekman's approach is "To Know Your Mission." A sweeping song set in 1997, it describes a Mormon missionary thinking about the then recent death of Princess Diana. He encounters a young Jens Lekman, an earnest fellow who is trying to figure out his mission in life, trying to decide which would be better - a career spent writing songs to comfort people or becoming a social worker.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TO KNOW YOUR MISSION")
LEKMAN: (Singing) I just want to listen to people's stories, hear what they have to say. My friends say, just be a shrink then. But I don't know. I don't think I'll have the grades. But in a world of mouths, I want to be an ear. If there's a purpose to all this, then that's why God put me here. I know what I'm here for. I know who I'm serving. I'm serving you.
TUCKER: The transporting loveliness of Jens Lekman's music is matched by his ego-denying wish that, as he puts it, in a world full of mouths, I want to be an ear. Lekman is a listener. The album title "Life Will See You Now" carries an implication that life is a kind of doctor who will set you straight if, like Lekman, you're willing to listen.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large at Yahoo TV. If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like our interviews about the making of "Sgt. Pepper's" or onstage interviews with Seth Meyers and Joe Biden, check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews.
(SOUNDBITE OF JENS LEKMAN SONG, "POSTCARD #17")
GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Ann Marie Baldonado, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Mooj Zadie, and Thea Chaloner. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "POSTCARD #17")
LEKMAN: (Singing) What am I so scared of? What's the worst that could happen? Been awake all night - heard the rain tapping. If something taps on the window in the middle of the night... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.