Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jens Lekman

  • When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog [Secretly Canadian, 2004] B+
  • Oh You're So Silent Jens [Secretly Canadian, 2005] A-
  • Night Falls Over Kortedala [Secretly Canadian, 2007] A-
  • An Argument With Myself [Secretly Canadian EP, 2011] A
  • I Know What Love Isn't [Secretly Canadian, 2012] ***
  • Life Will See You Now [Secretly Canadian, 2017] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog [Secretly Canadian, 2004]
It would be silly to insist that there's much musical magnetism in the archly received/sampled arrangements or sad-sack delivery of this young Swede's official debut album. But it would be stupid not to want to hear the lyrics again--and again. "Yeah I got busted/So I used my one phone call to dedicate a song to you on the radio"? Quiet yet audacious. "When I said I wanted to be your dog/I wasn't coming on to you/I just wanted to lick your face"? You can't argue with that. "Lick those raindrops from the rainy day/You can take me for a walk in the park"? But that doesn't mean he can't top it. B+

Oh You're So Silent Jens [Secretly Canadian, 2005]
Juvenilia recorded 2003-2004, when he was 22 and 23, make clear why Lekman is compared to Jonathan Richman and Stephin Merritt--he too was a pop adept who talked his songs more than sung them. But spiritually he's so different. He shares Richman's sweet innocence. But unlike Richman, he's devoid of irony, slapstick, or post-rockist snark--his words and melodies project his innocence so unassumingly you have to assume that's who he is. As it happens, his "I just want someone to share my life with" is attached to one of his less memorable tunes. But it sticks even so. Your daughter can bring him to dinner any time. A-

Night Falls Over Kortedala [Secretly Canadian, 2007]
In a time when pop retro is split between neotrad rat-packers like Michael Bublé and faux-ironic blowhards like Richard Hawley, this Swede traffics in feeling. With their accented lyrics and melodies from wherever, his fact-filled love songs--foiled picnicker wakes up in a grubby ER with the girl whose sneak hug put him there, minor pop singer falls for the lesbian who enlisted him as her beard while fending off her father with auto-replies--seem completely innocent of the busy posturing of hepcats and blowhards. Loaded with talent, heart and personality, he's an eccentric who still thinks the world is his friend, and one more sweet argument for the civilized compromises of democratic socialism. A-

An Argument With Myself [Secretly Canadian EP, 2011]
I really like this choirboy manque, which part of me says isn't the point and another says is too. I like how gentle he is, how decent he is, how observant he is, how funny he is. The first three songs on this EP are strong, the fourth misty, the fifth sweet and slight, but all know melody and all fill out a portrait of a young man your daughter should only bring home to mother. He's so talented and caring that when he spends the entirety of the title cut berating himself--laughingly, to an adapted Congolese beat, as he obsesses on a romance gone awry while walking the streets because he doesn't have enough cab money to go cry in bed--it's clearly a temporary setback. Most likable is "A Promise," to a Chilean friend trapped in the toils of Sweden's deteriorating healthcare system. Gothenburg's gotten meaner and he knows it. A

I Know What Love Isn't [Secretly Canadian, 2012]
Lost affair leaves him mooning, melodic as ever but too crestfallen to do anything about it ("The World Moves On," "The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love") ***

Life Will See You Now [Secretly Canadian, 2017]
Beginning with a Mormon missionary mourning Lady Di and a guy showing his friend a plastic model of his tumor over lunch, Lekman is no longer mooning toward the bland anonymity of his 2012 breakup album. But as with so many great songwriters, his chief concern continues to be love. Usually but not always this means romantic love, although "How I Tell Him" cuts that distinction close and those first two songs make you wonder exactly how secular this humanistic Swede might be--the Mormon is envied, the cancer survivor learns his friend was praying for him. From back when he came on like a nicer relation of Stuart Murdoch, Lekman's romanticism and indeed sexuality have always had a lot of agape in it, hinting at social consciousness only insofar as agape is social consciousness's engine and embodiment. I believe that's because he's Swedish. Be grateful there's still a nation where a fellow can preach an ostensibly apolitical humanism with a clear conscience. A

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