“The song is a prosthesis that extends like a limb into the gut and pulls out the half-digested heart.” When Karin Dreijer, the woman behind Fever Ray and one half of the Knife, announced her new release, that’s how she described her craft. For better or worse, the description is precisely on point. Phantom prostheses penetrating guts and ripping out organs — the image is powerfully visceral, undeniably strange, oddly intimate, and a tad insufferable. The same can be said for Plunge, Fever Ray’s first album in almost nine years.
Plunge retains the otherworldly vocal filtering of its predecessor, but it’s faster and more physical. Where Fever Ray’s self-titled debut featured slow-burning ballads from beyond the pale, Plunge is alien body music. The title track and lead single “To the Moon and Back” are guaranteed to get you out of your seat, and the standout “IDK About You” is a dance-worthy blast of sexual energy punctuated by gasping women.
That eroticism is all over Plunge — it’s both voracious and sensitive, a refreshing break from the full-on hormonal assault that you find in most pop music. “Mustn’t Hurry” is subtle song about the pleasures of taking things slow, while “To the Moon and Back” finds Dreijer at her most direct — “Your lips, warm and fuzzy/I want to run my fingers up your pussy.” But even when that force is at its wildest, it never loses its prerequisite sensitivity. “An Itch” is one of the more forgettable tracks on Plunge, but its heartfelt refrain of “Imagine: touched by somebody who loves you” is a fine thesis statement for the album.
Sex meets politics to middling results on “This Country”. Dreijer lays it on thick, shouting, “Free abortions and clean water! Destroy nuclear!” before repeating “This country makes it hard to fuck.” If she’s talking about the United States, she’s certainly not wrong, but the track feels preachy and heavy-handed. Fever Ray is more effective when leading by example, reflecting a romance rooted in trust and respect.
Ultimately, Fever Ray retains all the qualities that made the project so hypnotic back in 2009. Dreijer still makes dark synth-pop refracted through some extraterrestrial prism. But the project also carries the same catch — Fever Ray is great, but wouldn’t you rather listen to the Knife? Fever Ray is certainly more accessible, but the act leans so heavily on its oddities that you might as well dive all the way in. When you listened to Fever Ray’s self-titled debut, you went back to Silent Shout. After Plunge, there’s a natural drift back to peculiar sonics and queer politics of Shaking the Habitual.
It’s also undeniable that the musical landscape has transformed dramatically in the near decade since Fever Ray’s last album — the musicians who grew up on Dreijer’s music have released records of their own now. Fever Ray and the Knife have diffused throughout the broader pop music landscape, and Dreijer’s music simply isn’t as mindboggling as it was in 2009. Consider Purity Ring, who broke out with a lyric “Cut open my sternum and pull my little ribs around you,” is in many ways a hyper-saccharine Fever Ray. Dreijer still plays alien pop star better than most, but where she once occupied a unique niche, she now serves as the elder stateswoman of modern sound.
Plunge is a worthy addition to Dreijer’s career discography, and fans of Fever Ray and the Knife are sure to enjoy it. It’s an energetic and erotic record that may very well soundtrack some of the freakier parties you attend this fall. Still, it doesn’t capture the full scope of Dreijer’s ambition. The Plunge announcement reads “Listen! Sex is work, love is work, work is sex, work is love, the magical conversion of ‘is’ given impossible power by its delivery in music.” Plunge may not live up to Dreijer’s sweeping Facebook manifesto, but it’s moving in the right direction. B