The past is never over in pop music, and when it's repurposed with enough imaginative style, it can even sound - and look - like the future.
Anyone examining the fashionable pop firmament in 2011 would be hard pressed to turn up an artist more au courant than Lykke Li, the indie-pop singer who put on a terrifically sleek sold-out show Monday at the Theatre of Living Arts on South Street.
With hair slicked back and heavily mascaraed sad eyes, Li wore an unrevealing cloak that made her look like a vixen from Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" video sentenced to star in an Ingmar Bergman film.
Fronting a five-person, also dressed-in-black band, the coolly confident 25-year-old Swede born Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson - whose stage name is pronounced Licky Lee - made powerfully percussive and precise music. She drew mainly from her more-brooding, less-cooing second album, Wounded Rhymes, which is one of the standout releases of this year.
With ribbons of black curtain hanging down amidst the ensemble - which included two drummers, a keyboard player, backup vocalist, and one player who switched between electric bass and acoustic guitar - Li often banged on drums or a tambourine herself as she navigated the stage with more gothic grace than in previous whirling-dervish visits to Philadelphia.
The music, too, was more powerful and direct this time.
That was the case whether she was out on stage alone at the start of the forlorn "I Know Places" or joining in on the rhythmic racket that drove the dirty-dance groove of "Get Some."
That's the one with the attention-grabbing lyric, "I'm your prostitute / You gonna get some." Li has explained that that line was inspired by a character in Japanese writer Haruki Murakami's novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle who is "a prostitute of the mind" with the ability to make men fantasize about her. With the largely female crowd at the TLA, Li used her music to pull off the same trick.
That music - from the charmingly lissome breakout single "Little Bit" to the pummeling "Youth Knows No Pain," which found Li clutching at her shoulders as if to protect herself from the lie of the lyric that she repeated over and over - never feels unduly retro. But the songs from Wounded Rhymes and its lighter, 2008 predecessor, Youth Novels, are built up from component parts that are creatively updated from girl-group and garage-band staples of a bygone era.
"Sadness Is a Blessing," the new Wounded Rhymes single that winningly melds adolescent angst with Scandinavian melancholy, cops its martial beat from the Phil Spector girl-group Wall of Sound playbook. That wailing organ riff that gives "Rich Kid Blues" its swagger? It wouldn't exist without the 1966 classic "96 Tears" by ? & the Mysterians. And the backing shoo-wop shoo-wops that underpinned the beautifully bummed-out closer, "Unrequited Love," dated all the way back to street-corner 1950s doo-wop.
In Li's able hands, however, none of it felt even a little bit old.