“The letter X marks the spot, crosses over, literally with a cross. It’s the former, the ex-. The ex-lover known simply as “an ex”. Ex- is the latin prefix meaning “out”. Exterior, an exit. Extraordinary. Excellent. It’s exciting. Generation X. X-files. X is the unknown. X is Extreme“
Extreme is Molly Nilsson’s tenth studio album. Recorded in 2019 and throughout the 2020 global pandemic at home in Berlin, Extreme is a departure for Nilsson, an explosion of angry love. It’s an album of anthems for the jilted generation, soaked with joy and offering solace, bristling with distorted, Metal guitars and planet-sized choruses that bring light to the dark centre of the galaxy. It’s an album of the times, by the times and for the people. It’s a record about power. About how to fight it, how to take it and how to share it.
Absolute Power explodes with massive guitars, double kick beats and the instantly iconic line “It’s me versus the black hole at the centre of the galaxy.” Nilsson’s performance itself portrays absolute power in its confidence but the song is a call-to-arms, an entreaty to grasp the here and now, to take the power back. It’s Nilsson pacing the ring and we’re instantly in her corner. Earth Girls takes familiar Molly Nilsson themes - female empowerment and subverting the patriarchy - but casually throws in one of the choruses of her career. “Women have no place in this world” she sings, but it’s the world that isn’t good enough. Stadium-sized but still warmly hazy, Earth Girls has its fists in the air, glorifying in harmony, almost ecstatic in its feeling good. Nilsson’s Springsteen-level conviction and righteousness bleeds through the speaker cones, the cognitive dissonance between the song’s cadences and angry lyrics redolent of Bruce in his prime. Female empowerment isn’t always an angry energy on Extreme, however. On Fearless Like A Child, Nilsson’s anthem to the female body and women’s sovereignty of it, she croons over a mid-80s blue-eyed Soul groove. It sets a nocturnal scene as the narrator surveys her past and her surroundings. Before we’re fully submerged in a dreamlike, Steve McQueen-era Prefab Sprout poem to learning from your mistakes the song erupts into one of those lines only Molly Nilsson can get away with: “I love my womb, come inside I feel so alive” she fervently sings. Against the backdrop of ever-encroaching, conservative rulings on women’s reproductive rights in places like Texas, it’s simultaneously angry and full of love.
Every song on Extreme is a gleaming gem in a pouch of jewels. On Kids Today, Nilsson is the voice of wisdom, archly commenting on the eternal struggle between youth and authority. Wisdom infuses Sweet Smell Of Success with a transcendent love that forgives the narrator’s shortcomings and celebrates the moment, it’s a letter to the author from the author that asks “what is success” and concludes that this is it, this song, this moment. It’s a rare moment of simple reflection that is generous in its insight to Nilsson’s inner life. “Success” is a tool of power and we don’t need it… We need power tools and there are moments on Extreme where it feels like Nilsson is showing us how to find them. It's an open conversation through out Extreme. She’s a warm, comforting presence through out the album and specially on these songs of encouragement, songs perhaps sang to a younger Molly Nilsson or, really, to whomever needs to hear them. “They’ll praise your efforts, they’ll call you slurs a rebel, a master, an amateur / Merely with your own existence, you already offer your resistance.” On Avoid Heaven she’s even more direct, pleading with us to avoid concepts of purity and to embrace the glorious, ebullient, emotional mess we’re often in as a method of upending the power structures who need things to be perfect.
They Will Pay brings back the big, distorted power chords in the form of a agit-punk, pop slammer. Of course, when Molly Nilsson does punk pop we get the catchiest chorus this side of The Bangles or The Nerves. It’s rendered in an off the cuff, throwaway manner that is just perfect in its roughness. However, it’s on Pompeii that Nilsson delivers the album’s epic, emotional heartbreaker. Like 1995 on Nilsson’s album Zenith, or Days Of Dust on Twenty Twenty, the lyrics of Pompeii are heavy with a transcendent sadness, an aching poetry that cuts to the truth of the heart like the best Leonard Cohen lines, though here delivered with an uplifting, life-affirming love. It contains the most personal moments of Extreme, a song lit by the dying embers of romance. Yet it’s here where the alchemy at the base of all Nilsson’s best work is found. Turning small nuggets of personal truth into big, generous universal moments that invite everyone to cry, to love and to fight the power. In an album of jewels, it might be the shining star.
Molly Nilsson’s biggest, boldest and most vital album to date, Extreme is about power. Against the love of power and for the power of love.