Our Short Century
The Knife are calling it quits, or something like that, at least. Given that Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer both seem totally unconcerned with whether they should do things a certain way or not and are explicitly stopping because “it should only and always be for fun,” who knows what will happen in the future? It’s natural, though, to try and look at what might be their last release for something. Clues, meaning, catharsis, something. But, as mentioned, the duo-turned-collective (live, at least) doesn’t really care what is expected of it, and nothing about Shaken-Up Versions feels like a swan song.
If anything, the most baffling thing about this brief set is that it isn’t a live album. These eight songs (one from the Knife’s debut, two each from Deep Cuts and Silent Shout, and three from immediate predecessor Shaking the Habitual) are all ones the band has been playing live, and they’ve all been re-recorded in forms much closer to their recent live versions. So why not just tape some concerts? Especially in the second half of their recent surprising spate of touring, when the core duo turned their complement of dancers into full band members and had Shaking the Habitual singer Shannon Funchess join up, the Knife’s sound really transformed from the none-more-Goth chill of Silent Shout and Dreijer Andersson’s work as Fever Ray to a colorful, intensely rhythmic, joyful eruption. A full-fledged live album of that show would be very welcome, and not just because then they probably wouldn’t leave off songs as good as Shaking the Habitual highlight “Raging Lung”.
Apart from wishing that Shaken-Up Versions, or the band’s future, was something it definitely isn’t, though, the collection isn’t bad at all. The title is, if anything, a little too on the nose. These songs have been agitated until listening to, say, “We Share Our Mother’s Health” or “Pass This On” or “Without You My Life Would Be Boring” next to their original recorded versions makes the latter sound positively drowsy. The strongest reinventions come near the end, with a version of “Ready to Lose” that replaces the rolling percussion of the original with hollow, booming drums, and a “Silent Shout” that practically shivers itself to bits to end the album.
The latter shows another major difference between these shaken-up versions and the originals. This is the most straightforwardly that the Knife has ever approached techno, with more than one track here preceding the original intro of these songs with faintly generic bosh. The Knife also makes gestures towards the band’s political nature. There’s nothing to be embarrassed of in the old songs, but in a fitting nod the band’s consistent concern with gender politics “Got 2 Let U” gets gender neutral pronouns, and the two female singers of this “Pass This On” are now in love with the person they’re addressing’s sister, not brother.
These are all, in the grand scheme of things, minor changes to excellent songs. When they work best, as with “Silent Shout”, they complement rather than replace the existing versions (with the possible exception of “Bird”, from the debut, which benefits greatly from Dreijer Andersson’s improved vocals and and a deliriously sped-up version of its old hook). The result, then, frustratingly enough for fans who wanted something significant in the face of the Knife’s impending dissolution, is neither bad nor terribly essential; nice enough to have, but more a marker of where these still-vital artists were when it stopped being fun than anything more crucial.