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Resequence: Jens Lekman: I Know What Love Isn’t

Resequence: Jens Lekman: I Know What Love Isn’t

Let’s embrace the themes, cut the slender songwriting and house some homeless B-sides to create a truly cohesive album.

Oh you’re so mopey Jens.

After a banquet of songs about avocado mishaps, fake lesbian girlfriends and canoodling in pews, Jens Lekman got his heart obliterated and nixed part of the cheery, hyper detailed nerdom that defined his first two albums. Instead, he went for the maudlin and claimed to go for the ambitious, failing in the second regard. I Know What Love Isn’t is Lekman’s weakest for two reasons. One, it attempts to be everything at once even while being Lekman’s slightest album. It’s a record about the apocalypse, marrying for citizenship, tumbleweeding across the globe, climate change, breaking up and none of those things at the same time. Portions of it are Lekman’s most anemic because he can’t figure out a central theme outside of: angst, angst, angst! It’s a partial concept album on attempting to get a green card by marrying a friend but never dives into undercurrent, comparing personal to universal apocalypses. Secondly, Lekman was only rivaled by Stephin Merritt in tome-filling prolificness. I Know What Love Isn’t comes sandwiched between three DJ mixes, an EP, scattered covers and his ridiculous Postcard series where he wrote a song a week for a year. Even if I Know What Love Isn’t had been gold-plated “Your Arms Around Me” for an hour, there would still be quibbles on song placement. So let’s fix that! Let’s embrace the themes, cut the slender songwriting and house some homeless B-sides to create a truly cohesive album under its true name: “The End of the World is Bigger than Love”

“The End of the World is Bigger than Love” Tracklist:

1. “Postcard 7: (“Sock on the Heater”)
2. “The World Moves On”
3. “I Know What Love Isn’t”
4. “Become Someone Else’s”
5. “Erica America”
6. “Postcard 44” (“Cold Blue Spot”)
7. “I Want a Pair of Cowboy Boots”
8. “New Directions”
9. “Postcard 42” (“I Move On”)
10. “Every Little Hair Knows Your Name”
11. “The End of the World Is Bigger than Love”
12. “A Little Lost”

Additions:

“Postcard 7”
“Postcard 44”
“New Directions”
“Postcard 42”
“A Little Lost”

Omissions:

“Some Dandruff on Your Shoulder”
“She Just Don’t Want to Be with You Anymore”

“Postcard 7”

On three out of four Lekman albums, the opening duo sets the emotional stakes and scene. I Know What Love Isn’t declines and is worse for it. Lekman likes to begin with a swoon of a song, and “Postcard 7” is a gauzy little joy that cements him as completely dependent and so in love with the feeling of love that his later accusations never feel jilted, and more of the kicked puppy-dog vein that he mines so well.

“The World Moves On”

But I Know What Love Isn’t has to have a breakup. And “The World Moves On” is Lekman’s traditional heartbruised-disco second track. On the original album, it was the only song that matched the thematic ambitions, rushing through brushfires, global warming, one nightstands, sadness. The usual charcuterie board for Lekman with more hooks jammed into its six-minute run time than the entire Billboard chart.

“I Know What Love Isn’t”

Now that we have Lekman moping around Australia, we can introduce his scheme to get a green card and maybe(?) find the girl of his dreams. “I Know What Love Isn’t” is a bouncy bop that has Lekman’s logical side wrestling and ultimately losing to his romantic side, trying to turn grabbing citizenship through a fake marriage into a grand overture.

“Become Someone Else’s”

After truly trying to mellow his melodrama, “Become Someone Else’s” is one of the few Lekman songs that deals evenhandedly with the uncomfortable aspects of ownership in floundering relationships. Deep from a guy who unironically claimed he wanted to be some gal’s dog. And the sweet, seafoam-soaked chorus with cooing strings is about as adorable as I Know What Love Isn’t gets.

“Erica America”

What I Know What Love Isn’t could have been, and what we’re trying to make it, is an album of contraction, expansion and comparison. The microscopic goes macro as Lekman’s own lonesome tears filter his view of an alternatively uncaring and burning world. “Erica” is a facade, intended as a vessel for Lekman’s confusion and love for the good old USA, where his songwriting heroes came from and where the world’s bluster and bile all seems to originate from.

“Postcard 44”

Continuing his stint in the states, “Postcard 44” is a slinky piece of synthwave that finds Lekman overhearing two Americans wave off climate change as a nothingburger. “The absurdity makes it sound/ Like something out of The Onion” Lekman sighs before an ethereal chorus lands, with implications of melting glaciers and something primordial waking in the ocean. If “Erica America” is Lekman bewildered with a country, “Postcard 44” is him humbled by oceanic currents and gleaming ice sheets.

“I Want a Pair of Cowboy Boots”

One of I Know What Love Isn’t’s most enduring songs, “I Want a Pair of Cowboy Boots” sheds a touch of light on Lekman’s constant need to move and forget. He’ll buy some leather, “the kind that walks the straightest and the most narrow routes/ Anywhere but back to you,” and we follow our sad, Swedish cowboy into the second half of the album.

“New Directions”

“New Directions” is a regal, woozy song that was the best on Lekman’s preceding EP An Argument with Myself. It certainly deserved a full release. His rapid, anxious lyrics bounce over a funky, rubbery bass and uses one of his most delectable melody lines, a sparkling chorus that’s as beautiful as it is nervous. Only Lekman could be asked for directions and turn it into a moan about his alienation. And hey! This is a nice little nod to the “New Directions” those new boots might take him.

Every Little Hair Knows Your Name (Intro)” + “Every Little Hair Knows Your Name

With the sudden cutoff closing “New Directions,” it’s the perfect time to introduce an interlude: the warm glow of “Every Little Hair Knows Your Name” which opens the original album. It’s cute to reintroduce motifs, but the intro with its main song are stronger together. It’s the complete comedown from “Cowboy Boots,” Lekman staring his heartbreak eye to eye instead of running away.

“Postcard 42”

And we zoom back out. Lekman, after pulling his heart, Temple of Doom style, right out of his chest, is better able to reflect. “A beaver doesn’t ask why it builds its dams/ Work isn’t questioned by the red wood ants,” he sings over a cocooning synth line and sax coo. “So I move on,” he sighs, accepting that he needs to get over it, but he’s always in this process, falling head over heels at a single glance and dropping an already duct taped heart again and again.

“The End of the World Is Bigger than Love”

The penultimate song, and our title track for this improved version, acts as a bookend and brother to “The World Moves On.” Another disco blowout that embraces the world while rushing through Lekman’s own sadness. The bridge is a cascade of images, going from glaciers to the pharmacy down the street from his apartment (please see “44” and “New Directions” respectively for the neat bows this ties up).

“A Little Lost”

There were a few covers we could have picked. “Oh! Oh Yeah!” With his long-time coconspirator Tracey Thorn or the split Scout Niblett songs he did. But Lekman’s own kookiness matches unappreciated underground wizard Arthur Russell best. Like “Postcard 7,” “A Little Lost” would be a minimalist blip, a subtle bow with thumb piano as Lekman’s only accompaniment. All the emotions of The End of the World is Bigger than Love flowing through in a sweet, sad smile. So much of this record has Jens hiding his true intentions with thumping bass, irony or Google maps imagery, but channeling the words of another tears all the fluff away, finally just leaving Lekman alone. Yeah, the apocalypse is bigger than a broken heart. A broken heart just feels like the end times.

Omissions:

“Some Dandruff on Your Shoulder”

The best example of I Know What Love Isn’t’s anemic songwriting, “Some Dandruff On Your Shoulder” attempts some lyrical coups, with letters of resignation and a winking Jay-Z reference, but it feels like a hasty mask and not as vibrant a facade as the rest.

“She Just Don’t Want to Be with You Anymore”

The little brother to Night Falls Over Kortedala’s “I Am Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You,” “She Just Don’t Want to Be with You any More” would have served better there, thanks to the minimal lyrics. Lekman’s sudden shift to second person POV also doesn’t fit with this intensely personal rush of melodrama.

Listen to Nathan’s version of I Know What Love Isn’t here:

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