There are many reasons why we love Jens Lekman’s music, but perhaps the most endearing one is his charming storytelling ability. Throughout his career, the Swedish songwriter has tapped into a wide range of clever witticisms, shining light on hopeless moments, unveiling meaning in seemingly trivial matters and finding humor in the things he can’t control. In doing so, he’s employed an unlikely series characters and metaphors, referencing anything and everything, including homeless kitties, Mark E. Smith jokes gone horribly wrong, flirting with a deaf girl in sign language, his ability to do 100 push-ups and his inability to dance the funky chicken.
Lekman’s third proper full length, I Know What Love Isn’t, arrives in stores next week, and it’s an album which unsurprisingly highlights his longstanding lyrical penchant. To celebrate, we went back through Jens’ entire catalog in order to revisit his most irresistible lyrics. We’ve also created a playlist of the songs available on Rdio at the end of the list.
Oh, I still remember “Regulate” with Warren G.
Could that have been back in the sweet summer of 1993?
It was a sweet summer’s night on Hammer Hill.
This smooth Warren G. and Nate Dogg hip-hop classic seems like an odd choice of musical nostalgia for the Swedish pop singer, but anything is possible in the world of Jens Lekman.
I had a good time at the party when everyone had left,
I flirted with a girl in sign language ‘cause she was deaf.
In “It Was a Strange Time in My Life,” Lekman walks us through yet another fateful miscommunication about an encounter that simply wasn’t meant to be.
I started working out when we broke up.
I can do 100 push ups,
I could probably do to two if I was bored.
It’s been confirmed that Jens Lekman could, in fact, do 100 push ups at one point following the breakup that informs his latest record. These days, however, he’s more of a runner.
”It makes you look like a lumberjack, but are you man enough to wear it?”
I said, “It used to be my grand-grandfather’s, what could I do but inherit it?”
On “Kanske,” we learn the existential answers regarding the items bequeathed by his deceased ancestors.
I could sit and watch my life go by,
Or I could take a tiny chance.
‘Cause some day I’ll be stuffed in some museum,
Scaring little kids
With the inscription carpe diem.
Something I never did.
Nothing scares the children like telling them to live up to their full potential!
Yeah I got busted.
So I used my one phone call to dedicate
a song to you on the radio.
It’s only in the romantic and joyous world of Jens Lekman’s mind does using your one phone call on a radio shout-out resemble a sense of “perfect clarity.”
I wish I’d never met you,
like I wish I’d never tasted wine
or tasted it from lips that weren’t mine.
I Know What Love Isn’t is a far more somber experience compared to his previous albums, but Lekman has developed his lyricism far beyond just the quirky one liners—he’s now able to write memorable lyrics no matter the subject matter.
‘Cause times are changing, Kirsten: Göta Älv is slowly reversing;
They turned a youth-center into a casino; They drew a swastika in your cappuccino.
And the VIP lines are not to the clubs, but to healthcare, apartments and jobs.
“Hey buddy can I borrow five grand?
‘Cause my dad’s in chemo, and they wanna take him off his plan.”
After a missed encounter with Kirsten Dunst while she was filming a movie in Gothenburg, who stated she was a Jens Lekman fan, he details his borderline-stalker attempts to find the famed actress and to remind her that his city, in fact, does not have VIP lines.
Flying south, they know this place will die
And I wish they could take me with them
But I would not be accepted
‘Cause I can’t dance the funky chicken
Never before has the inability to dance the funky chicken been this tragic.
You don’t get over a broken heart; you just learn to carry it gracefully.
There are some understated quips in “The World Moves On” (i.e. “No one’s born an asshole, takes a lot of hard work / And God knows I worked my ass of to be a jerk!“), but they’re all trumped by the one of the most poignant lines that he’s ever written.
But I swear I’ll never kiss anyone who doesn’t burn me like the sun,
and I will cherish every kiss like my first kiss.
Night Falls Over Kortedala’s opening track perfectly captures the idealistic romanticism underlining so many of his songs. It’s never been clearer, however, than in these four lines.
In church on Sunday making out in front of the preacher.
You had a black shirt on with a big picture of Nietzsche.
When we had done our thing for a full Christian hour,
I had made up my mind that there must be a higher power.
His juxtaposition of God and “God is Dead” is masterful, managing to tackle the topic without any sense of overbearing judgement.
The way her shadow used to walk by your side,
In a different time, in a different city.
In case you were wondering, this is what the walk from Elizabeth Street to Queensbury Street looks like.
I picked up a seashell to illustrate my homelessness,
But a crab crawled out of it, making it useless.
If Murphy’s Law had a theme song, this is what it would sound like.
There’s a cow and an ostrich just waiting for you!
A glass of apple cider just waiting for you!
The smell of 1952 just waiting for you!
And all I’m doing here is just waiting for you!
A daydream, I’m caught up in limbo,
Friday night at the drive-in bingo.
Jens takes us to the Swedish countryside for some vintage bingo, revealing his master strategy as he belts out, “G-42! Ooh, I’m going diagonal!”
I know every song, you name it:
By Bacharach or David.
Every stupid love song that’s ever touched your heart,
Every power ballad that’s ever climbed the charts.
All weddings should have the musical requirement of at least one Jens Lekman power ballad, no questions asked.
In my next dream I want a pair of cowboy boots.
The kind that walks the straightest and most narrow route,
Anywhere but back to you.
“I just love the way it sort of sounds silly and unguarded,” Lekman said about this song’s origins, “there’s something very naive and innocent about it.” His feeling of devastation and inability to move on are paired with this lighthearted metaphor, which ultimately ends up being one of his saddest songs. But heartbreak described in this manner is something that only Jens could do.
I killed the party again,
I ruined it for my friends.
“Well, you’re so silent, Jens,”
Well, maybe I am, maybe I am.
“You’re so silent, Jens” is one of Jen Lekman’s most recognizable lines, and in many ways succinctly captures the essence of the Swedish songwriter, as “Black Cab” offers an informative look inside the nuanced observations residing inside his introspective mind.
Your father puts on my record,
He says: “so tell me how you met her.”
I get a little nervous and change the subject,
I put my hand on a metal object,
He jokes and tells me it’s a lie detector.
This entire song’s lyrics are worth a mention, but it’s the details of this painfully awkward encounter that make “A Postcard to Nina” so great. The song hilariously recounts Jens pretending to be his lesbian friend’s boyfriend and the experience of meeting her father, which ends up going horribly wrong as he blows his cover.
And it’s bigger than an iceberg, than the plume of a geyser;
And it’s bigger than the spider, floating in your cider;
And it’s bigger than the stock market, than the loose change in your pocket;
And the Flatbush Avenue Target, than their pharmacy department;
And it’s bigger than our problems, and our inability to solve them;
From Coney Island to Harlem, to the end of the world and back again.
In a recent interview, I asked Jens Lekman what lyrics he liked the most on his new record, I Know What Love Isn’t, and he pointed to the second part of this song, which he thinks relieves listeners from the preceding “five minutes of misery.” He’s right—there’s nothing like the depths of cider spiders or your local Target to put your average apocalyptic heartbreak into perspective.
Rain falls hard on the city
on every homeless kitty.
I thought she said maple leaves
and when she talked about about the fall,
I thought she talked about Mark E. Smith,
I never understood at all.
“Maple Leaves” best represents Jens Lekman’s lyrical and musical approach. It’s a lushly-layered pop song, combining the most tragic with misunderstandings with lighthearted sentiment. Most importantly, no one can possibly bear the despairing imagery of a homeless kitty.
We can only hope someday that Jens Lekmans gets the call to replace Sarah McLachlan as ASPCA’s chief kitten protector. Until then, he’ll just have to save the world one lyric at a time.