The communal brain of the British music press has heralded 2009 as the year of synthpop. Hang on a minute. Isn’t that the genre that’s been making a comeback every year since at least the turn of this century, if not ever since the Human League put their mascara on and plugged in their Korgs?
Someone better tell Karin Dreijer Andersson that she’s part of this new resurgent wave of all things electronic as she may no doubt be confused as to what exactly she’s been doing for the past decade as half of The Knife. Unafraid of expectations and boldly displaying their creative intent and individuality through the sharpest attention to detail, The Knife have gained the reputation of being an eccentrically accessible entity, not to mention a mesmerising live act. But separate Karin from brother Olof, and what have you got?
Dark-edged electronic pop is the answer in short. While this won’t come as any surprise to current The Knife devotees, Fever Ray is a more personal, edgier and at times stark listen. Lyrically there is enough detail to snag interest but definitive meanings are always left blurry, vague and ambiguous enough to keep you guessing.
From the undulating, trance-like incantation of If I Had A Heart, to the icy chords of When I Grow Up, to the classic synthpop melancholy of Seven, there is enough variation to evade pigeonholing but enough continuity for the album to retain its overall cohesion. Overall it poses an emotionally engaging, at times uplifting, at times claustrophobic listen.
Having a unique voice and style of singing always has the power to divide and Fever Ray’s potential audience outside of hardcore The Knife fans will undoubtedly be split. Spread over 10 tracks, the way Karin draws out each word in a catlike manner could have begun to grate. But that potential pitfall is nicely sidestepped though liberal use of a vocoder on tracks like the dark and moody Concrete Walls and fragile, spine-tingling standout Dry And Dusty.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with other distinctive female artists like Kate Bush, Tori Amos and Björk, Karin Dreijer Andersson is certainly a unique talent. Rather than angling for mass appeal, her Fever Ray guise shows that whether recording as half of The Knife or going solo, she remains staunchly opposed to compromising herself or her artistic ideals. While that may pose a Marmite effect for listeners, that’s surely better to savour than chewing on the latest piece of bland, unbuttered toast that’s been served up to tick all of the right commercial boxes.
So forget what the bleating pack say about 2009 being the year of synthpop: 2009 may just be the year of Fever Ray. This is an odd gem of a record that should be cherished in a class of its own.