Jens Lekman's third full album, I Know What Love Isn't was recorded over a period of three years in a number of studios on different continents, but sounds like the result of a single focused recording session. It's his first album to be recorded mostly by musicians instead of being built chiefly around samples (though there are a few to be found scattered throughout), and Lekman proves to be just as adept working this way as he was in the past. He blends the instruments together like a skilled painter and gets emotional performances from everyone, especially the string players. These performances fit with the lyrics because somewhere in that time, Lekman seems to have had his heart mangled and/or broken into a million pieces. Every song on the album revolves around heartache and heartbreak, and while Lekman's sweetly honest vocals and off-kilter wit and wisdom manage to keep things on the light side (mostly), this is very melancholy stuff at its core. The music, too, (mostly) belies the wrenching topic of the words and is pleasantly hooky, breezy, and light. Inspired this time by soft rock and given to the occasional sax solo, tracks like "Become Someone Else's" or "Erica America" conjure up the relaxed, woodsy feel of bands like America or singers like Carole King. The arrangements are full and rich, and Lekman sounds at home surrounded by pianos and harmony vocals. Other songs (the title track, "The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love," "The World Moves On") bop along happily in a more traditional Lekman fashion, with the heartbreak and sadness soundtracked by glockenspiel, flutes, and handclaps. There's also a strong Prefab Sprout/Aztec Camera current running through the album, as evidenced in the tricky chord changes and briskly strummed acoustic guitars of "Some Dandruff on Your Shoulder," and the sophisticated sound of the devastating ballad "She Just Don't Want to Be with You Anymore." Whatever the style or feel Lekman aims for, he hits it dead center as usual. I Know What Love Isn't is Lekman at his finest, transmitting real emotion and humor in songs that are impossible to stop humming for days. He may be less the young upstart who might drop goofy samples or jokes into his songs, and more of a seasoned craftsman who's at home in the middle of a string section, but it's hard to deny the brilliance of his melodies and the power of his words. Jens Lekman may have had his heart broken; he's yet to break the hearts of his fans that have come to rely on him for intelligently crafted, emotionally punchy pop of the highest quality.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra