Life Will See You Now (Secretly Canadian/Inertia)
Who would think to write a song about worrying if you are a close enough to a colleague with a tumour to tell him you want to include him in your evening prayer? Who would then make the song both sweet and odd, funny and touching?
The long answer would be the same person who once wrote about falling a little bit in love with his hairdresser as she cuts his hair in her home while her mother sits in a rocking chair, and then discovering that she is worried about being deported from Sweden back to Iraq.
Along the way making a touched-with-regret song of no small beauty.
Who also wrote a song about pretending to be his friend’s boyfriend over dinner with her parents so they wouldn’t discover she was a lesbian, only to have her father quiz him and then try to become an email buddy.
And in those few minutes have you laughing, nodding with recognition and wincing.
Jens Lekman has either no filter or no embarrassment setting. Or maybe he’s just a very good storyteller who makes the general seem personal, the personal seem intimate, and the odd seem at worst wry if not very funny.
Take for example the cry of the quiet rebels who egg each other on to, gasp!, Hotwire The Ferris Wheel and take a ride one night. “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.”
That little sin is made even funnier by the exchange later in the song (a duet with the ever richly rewarding voice of Tracey Thorn) where she sings “I think if you’re going to write a song about this, please don’t make it a sad song”.
Lekman, who briefly made Melbourne a home (but whose visa meant he wasn’t allowed to play here – boo hiss Immigration ministers past and present), is the kind of storyteller who can make a moving song mean so much without having to ladle on the obvious. Take for example two friends who can “talk about anything, as long as it’s about nothing” but one of them has a deep longing and asks How Can I Tell Him – that he is loved, needed?
When the song ends with the unknowing friend heading off from the station into “the gap between day and night”, we listen in as he shouts “later dude” and our narrator thinks, “yeah, I love you too”. It’s note perfect.
The droll Swede is someone who can adapt the oddities around him - oddities beyond even him and his quirks – into tales that feel if not personal then at least personally observed.
It may well be true that, as he sings here, he is someone who “in a world of mouths, [wants] to be an ear”.
Speaking of ear, as funny, insightful, droll or naïf as Lekman’s lyrics, and for that matter his understated singing voice, are it’s only part of the gift. What opens the bargaining, negotiates the terms and seals the deal are his tunes and his light hand with arrangements.
Dandelion Seed is a summer slumber on a drifting river punt, with accordion humming like a pleased cat; Our First Fight crosses a Motown groove with a Jimmy Buffett 24-hour-cocktail-hour tone, like some Hawaiian shirt under a sharp suit; What’s That Perfume That You Wear brings in steel drums and percussion over a kind of loping strut (it makes sense when you hear it) - and all feel naturally warm.
To Know Your Mission is like a Sandie Shaw song magically discovered 50 years later, all barefoot skip and boy group cooing; Hotwire The Ferris Wheel borrows Brazilian tempos from around the same time as Sandie and gives them a subtle electronic makeover under a melody that just caresses; Wedding In Finistere brings in Paul Simon’s ‘70s Latin influences – and all feel buoyed with heart.
And if you were told the gentle disco shadings of Evening Prayer was a song you once taped from AM radio in the mid ‘70s, somehow merging the Philly soul track, which preceded it, and the English pop candidate for Eurovision, which played after, you could not automatically dismiss the idea.
At least not until you had shimmied a few times across the kitchen floor.
Jens Lekman makes pop music that feels as if someone might throw it away without concern. It doesn’t sound like much when put up against any of those sharp, busy, full songs you’ll hear on the radio.
But it gets words, melodies, hooks, wit, emotion and care right. And that’s plenty enough to make it a keeper.