Fever Ray‘s eponymous debut shouldn’t really have come as too much of a surprise to anyone – Karin Dreijer had, after all, been doing a lot of this kind of thing with her brother in The Knife for nearly a decade. But if you hadn’t heard those bizarre Nordic vocals before, you were in for something rather special here.
Fever Ray opens with the debut single If I Had a Heart, which is dark and dreamy, deeply melancholic, and almost directionless. It’s an odd opener, both for her solo career and for the album, but it does give you a decent idea of what’s going to happen here.
When I Grow Up is a bit more like it – the vocals, which stay just on the right side of the line between challenging and annoying, speak of a child’s dreams and nightmares. The gentle instrumentation somehow warps and wails in the background while complementing the lyrics and vocal delivery well. It’s really rather good.
At worst, this album is always an interesting listen – Dry and Dusty
But it’s on the next track, the final single Seven, where Fever Ray‘s brilliance really starts to shine through. The lyrics are either imaginative or total nonsense, but it’s definitely catchy. Third single Triangle Walks is great too, although it wouldn’t have sounded entirely out of place on an album from about 1987.
Half way through the album, and you should have a pretty good idea of what’s going on here. The lyrics are hard to discern anyway, and when you can make them out, they don’t really stand up to a lot of scrutiny, but the heavily processed vocals are always interesting. The instrumentation, with wailing instrumentation, is unfailingly beautiful too. So even the duller tracks, such as Concrete Walls, are always interesting to listen to. And then, of course, you get an instrumental break like the one in the middle of Concrete Walls,
Fever Ray is always an interesting listen, at worst, but in the absence of poetic lyrics, it’s really the production that brings certain tracks to life above others. So Now’s the Only Time I Know is a bit dull, but then I’m Not Done is brilliant, full of interesting percussive sounds and catchy melodies.
That’s not to say that the quieter tracks are all dull – Keep the Streets Empty for Me is a pleasant piece built around gentle guitar strumming and dirty electronics. I’m not sure the panpipes are entirely necessary, but they don’t do too much harm either.
This album closes with Coconut, a pleasant but somewhat directionless seven-minute piece, the first half of which is entirely instrumental. It’s nice, but after having heard an entire album of this already, you might be ready for something a little shorter.
So all-in-all it’s mixed feelings for Fever Ray, a decade on from its original release. When it’s good, it’s exceptional – but a lot of the time the songs themselves are nothing special, just wrapped in some brilliantly unusual production. But that should be enough to make it worth trying – in an era with plenty of dull music floating around, you seem to always be able to count on Fever Ray
If you can find it, the US version has extra tracks, a DVD, and an entire bonus live album with all the same tracks again in live versions. If not, any version will do nicely.