It’s impossible to know how much to believe of Swedish journalist, model, linguist, literary agent, interpreter, and musician Virna Lindt’s backstory. Before the creation of Shiver, it is said that in 1981, while traveling by train to London she met local record producer/artist Tot Taylor and told him of her plan to record an album that would be “a Hitchcock theme with a rock-n-roll beat“. In short time, after a train ride back to Stockholm, in a three hour recording session with orchestra, Tot helped Virna record a live version of what would become “Attention Stockholm” thereby kicking off both his own Compact Organization record label and her career as the center to a new kind of sophisticated musical movement.
Serving as an answer to the increasingly gauche fashion and music coming from punk and New Wave scenes, Tot Taylor’s Compact Organization label took stylistic cues from the noir fashion of jet-set era of Anglophilic scenes and mined the less-heralded musical sounds of early musique concrete, Italian spaghetti-westerns, and Bernard Herrmann-style Hollywood soundtracks. Where the Francophile Belgian label Les Disques du Crépuscule had a bevy of postmodern, waifish, stylish acts, The Compact Organization had one pinup symbolizing what their sound and image could be: Virna Lindt. Before F/S fave Antena, Lio, or other retro-leaning acts like Stereolab, Broadcast, and St. Etienne, Virna was there trying to find ways to stand out from the post-punk pack. The way Virna did so, was by running way past it. “Attention Stockholm” with a lineage steeped in cool Britannia, pulpy spy fetishism, camp, and modernist imagery truly sounded all those parts. Its mix of chanteuse-like vocals with tremolo-soaked guitars and a heavily orchestrated backing, found ways to segue to spoken word parts and beat jazz, in a method that sounded less like pastiche and more like twisted appropriation.
Shiver simply luxuriates in feelings of off-kilter romance and intrigue that truly meet Virna’s original proposition to Tot. Sounding like the mysterious lover you’d swear only exists in the movie, Virna uses her linguistic skills to vocalize in Swedish and English half-knowing lyrics that match the unsteady sonic atmospheres found in songs like “Shiver” and “Pillow Talk”. I think of Shiver as Bergman’s All These Women cast as 50-odd minutes of musical dialog. Largely led by real and synthetic orchestration, as Virna’s moods change (as they often will, within the same song), Tot Taylor’s fantastic orchestration cast a brilliant pale of modern love throughout, shifting sonically to match those same moods. “When I catch you/pillow talk in two” can mean so many things under Virna’s guise and Taylor’s subversive ideas. The balearic, electro-reggae groove “I Experienced Love” introduces Virna’s hypnagogic take on true love: “If I drop my defenses…/I experience love”. Phasing in and out of different kinds of love, through different states of wants/needs, it’s a gorgeous bit of Swedish pop levity preparing you for what’s coming. Not all love, is true love.
“Swedish Modern”, a dastardly takedown or solipsistic treatise – depending on your take – to the self-worth found in the worth of your modern surroundings, continues expanding on the wonderfully subversive Pop Virna was wont to craft in Shiver. Sultrily sing-speaking over all sorts of unplaceable musique concrete and backwards-playing movie recordings, Virna finds just the right way to throw you from an expected scent. As the rest of the first side of the album plays out, cheery modal-Pop lays out fascinating tracts of self-help. Embracing her dark side, Shiver, plays onward as an album of a woman finding her strength through resilience. As she speaks the litany of responses to questions on “The Dossier On Virna Lindt”, to orchestration that sounds like “The Windmills of Your Mind” taken to a cavern never known, it’s not hard to conflate how all these answers given: “Name? Virna. Sex? Feminine. Hair? Ice Blonde. Eyes? Blue. Category? Swedish Model. Home? Stockholm. Direction? North by Northwest…Temperature? Cold. Vision? Blurry. Mission? Impossible.” are meant to portray a different vision of what the femme fatale character represents. Every male gaze tells only half the story.
As the flip side begins, “Attention Stockholm” serve as as a perfect multi-layered segue to Shiver‘s most hair-raising track: “Underwater Boy”. Introduced with image-appropriate sounds – electronics that mimic whale and seagull sounds, subsonic backwards phased vocals, radar-like bell tones – it’s not until the “proper” groove kicks in that all its undercurrents of melancholia and seduction mutate into something truly special. It’s the sound of Virna split two ways: sonically stretched out in time, trying to prolong the inevitable. Letting go, and all that entails, takes on myriad layers; for all the retro-fetishism stigmatism applied to Virna, there’s this genius bit of hypermodernist music here – “Just when you think things are going so well…” is barely the tip of it all. What’s left to this cliffhanger? Well, that’s for you to discover.