[ELECTRONIC] The Knife – ‘Shaken Up Versions’ Album Review
The ‘Club Silencio’ scene in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive featured the line: “the song a tape-recording…no hay banda…but yet we hear a band”. Upon re-watching Mulholland Drive several months ago, I was immediately transported back to two evenings in May 2013 where I saw The Knife perform ‘The Shaking the Habitual Show’. ‘Networking’ from The Knife’s excellent 2013 record Shaking the Habitual was played over the PA with nobody on stage – no hay banda…but yet we hear a band. At times in the show The Knife (expanded to a collective of performers) would be ‘playing’ instruments, while at other times they would be dancing joyously over pre-recorded music. It was awesome and unforgettable – an uncompromising statement about how electronic music is/can be presented in the current day and age, while sticking strongly to the mantra of ‘shaking the habitual’. What was lost however in the much of the hyperbole that surrounded the shows was how many of the songs ‘performed’ were re-worked and re-shaped for the shows themselves. And with Shaken Up Versions, The Knife present us with eight re-worked cuts from across their back catalogue, re-shaped for joyous expression in the medium of dance.
Being a ‘remix’ album essentially, it is hard to know how to frame the context of this review. Does one frame it in the context of the live show, where these tracks have come from? Or, how does the album work away from the live show and as a stand-alone release? The biggest compliment, with those questions in mind, is that Shaken Up Versions stands up as a stand-alone release. Many times, re-releases/B-sides & rarities/remix records are seen as a fan-only affair. Shaken Up Versions, with its quality and straight-out invention and re-invention throughout must, I feel, have the respect and attention of a new studio The Knife record. It at times is that good and that inventive.
It is of course a bonus if one was to have prior knowledge of the show, or some of the songs re-worked to fully appreciate the re-invention in some of the tracks. For example, ‘Bird’ with its frantic percussion, is unrecognizable (bar lyrics) to the song originally featured on the eponymous debut. While the original was a laid-back affair with sweet guitar riffs over lo-fi drums, the shaken-up version of ‘Bird’ brings a carnival spirit directly to the listener. But with its piercing synths, this new version could have also easily featured on Shaking the Habitual. Furthermore, the aforementioned carnival spirit continues on the re-working of ‘Without You My Life Would Be Boring’. The original, which comprised of a plethora of dueling percussion rhythms over woodwind drones and Karen Dreijer Anderson’s mystical lyrics, amusingly, was the most ‘pop’ song on Shaking the Habitual, with its relatively discernible verse, chorus structure. The new ‘shaken up version’, however, takes the claustrophobic rhythms, enhances them, and places them over a straight 4/4 beat. The result of which is magnificent. The chorus, with its beaten toms high in the mix, highlights the joyous and energetic nature of the re-working. ‘We Share Our Mothers Health’ is even more deranged than before, with added handclaps and synth refrains. While, ‘Got 2 Let U’ is also transformed into part cabaret, part Lynchian nightmare. With its four-to-the-floor ‘pomp’ and swinging saxophones, The Knife again create a unique and excellent piece of work, completely discrete to the original.
The Knife however are no strangers to creating revised material for their live shows. The Silent Shout Tour saw re-workings of songs from across their back catalogue. ‘Kino’ from the debut eponymous record was turbo-charged to near ‘banger’ status, and ‘Heartbeats’ was performed with heart-breaking, cascading arpeggios. Importantly the essence of these songs was kept even when re-worked for the live setting, especially with ‘Heartbeats’ where the emotional gravitas of the song was beautifully preserved. And many of the songs on Shaken Up Versions, even in their ‘shaken up’ states maintain tone and essence very well. ‘Ready to Lose’, for example, which closes Shaking The Habitual, is given industrial drums similar to those found on ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’, which featured on the same record. The industrial drums elevate the track to a desolate soundscape that compliments the angry and highly political lyrical content. ‘Pass This On’ however is one track that is unable to capture the essence or emotion of the original. The heart-breaking tale of unrequited love, which is told over the stunning steel-pan melodies, is lost behind a 4/4-house beat in the shaken up version. Although there are subtle and interesting changes with the new vocal from Shannon Funchess, and shifts in gender narrative (which further compliment many of the ideas of Shaking the Habitual), this new version feels most like a traditional remix, with the brief – ‘put a house beat on this and make it for the dancefloor’. Unfortunately it feels matter of fact and is the only track on Shaken Up Versions that does not take the core ideals of the original and build upon them.
‘Silent Shout’ and ‘Stay Out Here’ don’t meander greatly from the original source material. ‘Silent Shout’ still has that magnificent fluctuating synth line, however it now features on top of a huge four-to-the-floor with Dreijer’s vocals pitch-shifted up rather than down. ‘Stay Out Here’ sounds darker than before with a nasty looped bass-line. Neither though are ‘shaken up’ quite as much as several of the other tracks on Shaken Up Versions.
When reviewing Shaken Up Versions as a remix/versions record, it is hard to escape the past. A third question constantly plagued my mind while listening to the record: ‘How do the new versions compare to the original?’ And as a remix record per se, Shaken Up Versions is excellent – a glowing example how songs can be reworked, re-invigorated and re-born. But Shaken Up Versions is more than just a remix record, and while this review uses the past to aid the narrative, to look only in the past at how the tracks relate to their predecessors, I believe, may be a shallow interpretation of the material presented. Shaken Up Versions furthers the artistic statement and vision set out by Shaking the Habitual and the tour that subsequently followed. The material presented on Shaken Up Versions serves as a documentation of the challenge The Knife set out in 2013 – can the listener/audience give up pre-conceptions of what an artist should make, what an artist should play live and how an artist should perform.
Shaken Up Versions is set to release June 20th, but you can buy the ‘Without You My Life Would Be Boring’ single bundle here and pre-order the Shaken-Up Versions mini-album here.
Shaken Up Tracklisting:
1. We Share Our Mother’s Health (Shaken-Up Version)
2. Got 2 Let U (Shaken-Up Version)
3. Bird (Shaken-Up Version)
4. Without You My Life Would Be Boring (Shaken-Up Version)
5. Pass This On (Shaken-Up Version)
6. Ready To Lose (Shaken-Up Version)
7. Stay Out Here (Shaken-Up Version)
8. Silent Shout (Shaken-Up Version)