Over the last few years Lykke Li has been quite adamantly denying she is a pop artist. It now seems like an odd declaration, as her third record clearly moves her into pop territory with these short, tuneful, and alluring songs about emotional anguish. On her two previous records Li struggled with contradictory feelings of identity and desire, but here she just sounds forlorn about failing at love. The songs, as implied by the record’s title, express a certain fatalism and fatigue — as if deep hurt and scars are inevitable. At times, her solipsism and beautiful misery veer toward the oppressive but, thankfully, her melodic sensibilities are so strong. The production by Li, Bjorn Yttling, and Greg Kurstin — filled with reverb, echo, and multitracked vocals — often skews big and inviting, belying the intimately dour sentiments. “Heart of Steel” evokes throwback girl group and “Love Me Like I’m Made of Stone” is achingly lovely. Li virtually proves to herself that pop need not be soulless and manufactured. (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “Heart of Steel”Ken Capobianco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.