Since 2009 I’ve been picking artists that I feel I need to get better acquainted with, whether they are total or semi-unknowns (like Kate Bush and Tori Amos), well known artists whose albums I’ve rarely tried (like Kylie), or artists I love that I really want to go through thoroughly (like Madonna). Apart from those I just named, I’ve also given this treatment to Mariah Carey, ABBA and Alanis Morissette. It’s quite rewarding really, some more than others, and my OCD is satisfied that I’ve been thorough.
I load up one album at a time onto my iPod and, over the course of a week or two, listened through the album several times. Then I write it up, track-by-track, keep my favourites and move onto the next. I’ve been doing it for the benefit of a messageboard I visit all the time, and so far I think it’s been a success, so I thought I would share it with you lucky internet users too.
Just to expand on my relationship with her so far, I got into her around the Homogenic era, getting the album in OurPrice on New Year’s Eve 1999. By 2001 she was enjoying my loonship, and I ended up with all her albums, some DVDs and the Family Tree box set. I’m reduced to the first 5 studio albums now, and I do wonder how I’ll end up feeling about her, with successively less appealing albums. I’m quite familiar with the albums, less so the further we go. But she’s always someone I feel like I should really sit down and go through, which is why I’m doing this. I know her better than I did with Tori Amos, so call me a half-blank canvas.
So we start appropriately with DEBUT, which is as experimental as you would expect from a Bjork album, but with an early 90s housey feel to it that doesn’t sound too out there. Not totally mainstream of course, but she’s bringing the hits at least, and continued doing so for a few more years at least so I won’t get too downhearted.
09 Human Behaviour – Love this and its video, got a great rhythm to it. Her vocals are all over the place but still controlled and tuneful, just right, and a great opener. I love the backing that builds in the second verse, beefed up by some grumpy-sounding electronic noises. The middle 8 is great, and it segues smoothly into the final leg. Never a song I’ve thought OMG 13/10 for, but still one of her greats.
07 Crying – More of a straightforward dancey track now, with pretty minimal production that still sounds fresh. It’s difficult to really think about her music fitting into a particular timeframe, she never really sounds like other artists (for better or worse). This is listenable but not spectacular, I like the little keyboard riff throughout the verses. Chorus doesn’t do a huge amount for me, but I like this track.
10 Venus as a boy – Another signature track, and perhaps more akin to the stuff we’ll get to on Post. Love the lyrics, and her vocals are gorgeous. The simple glockenspielly flourishes are lush. HE. BELIEVES. IN. A BEAUTY (or is it inner beauty?). Anyway, love the strings, just everything is wonderful. Even Corinne Bailey Rae couldn’t suck the life out of this one (and she tried).
07 There’s more to life than this – Hmm, hard to know what’s going on here, does she run to the loo halfway through a set? There are bits I like to this and bits I don’t. The lyrics and vocals in the verses are a bit wry and fun. Halfway through it goes a bit strange briefly and it sounds like she’s in a cupboard, but things get back to normal pretty quickly, seriously WTF? The chorus doesn’t have a lot to it, but it’s a fun if unadventurous dance track.
06 Like someone to love – Very serene and plinky plonky, the sound of the sea gently in the background of what feels like quite an old-fashioned song, like it’s from the 40s or something. It does go on a bit, and doesn’t sit particularly well between two dancier numbers. Though if all the slowies were at the end, this album would be death at the end. It’s alright, I like her vocals, but it doesn’t make much of an impression.
08 Big time sensuality – Is this the one Dawn French parodied? Not an immediate choice of single, though judging by the GH did this get a remix? It’s a perky pop song, the naff synths in the bridge do rather put me in the mind of Whigfield’s Saturday Night for some reason… DIDDI DI DA DAA. Melodically the verses are a bit meandering but the chorus is good. I can sort of see why it was a single, but it doesn’t really stand up to Human Behaviour and Venus as a boy.
07 One day – Another bit of a trudge, the vocals are alright but the song doesn’t really have much to it. What is this even about, it’s like it’s just made up on the spot. I’ll just pretend it’s in Icelandic. The production is nice but it just drags over 5 minutes, I’d rather have longer versions of other songs.
06 Aeroplane – This is turning into a bit of a pain now I’m listening to it directly. That slaggy sax interlude at various points during the song is just annoying and has me eyeing up the “skip” button early on. Oh I just don’t have the energy for it … as with most of these songs there are parts of the production that are totally right, but the melody is just a bit too lazy and directionless.
09 Come to me – Now this is more like it, I can imagine this on the countless chillout albums that were so popular about 10 years ago. Dreamy backing music, her vocals are quite understated (which is a good thing at this point). When the strings kick in and her vocals soar after a minute or so… I was going to say it was the bridge, but this doesn’t seem to fit the usual verse/bridge/chorus structure. Nonetheless it all flows really well.
08 Violently Happy – Single time again, and I can’t say this has ever been a particular favourite of me. I love the dance backing, very 90s but not stale, I think the percussion really helps out in that respect, those sort of tribal drums carrying on in the background. It’s at least made an impression, I remember making a blog with a variation on the title of this song, how angsty! I can certainly imagine Bjork being violently happy anyway. OK it’s won me over if I really sit down and THINK about it.
05 The Anchor Song – Heh … well, this has been an album of ups and downs. Mostly if she’d stuck to her dance-styled theme for the majority of the album I think it would have been a much more even listen, as it stands, it lurches between the contents of a semi-commerical 90s dance EP and offbeat no-tempo don’t-know-whats like this. Can’t say I’m too keen, I don’t hate it, there are some nice instrumentation sections when they stop the SAX WARS, but a lot of this just leaves me a bit flat.
10 Play Dead – Oh well, at least we go out with a BANG. David Arnold is really bringing it, I was correct in suspecting this was tacked on as a bonus track, judging by the movie tie-in bits in the video. This could well have been my first Bjork song, I think it was on a Vauxhall Vectra advert (turns out it was with a gorge instrumental, is there an official version?. THAT is a good advert if I remember it nearly 20 years later, though I only remember the whale tail.). But anyway, dramatic strings, a gorgeous bassline, amazing vocals, lyrics that are listenable but still uniquely Bjorkish. It’s a PERFECT STORM.
OK well there’s the first serving. I rarely listen to Debut to be honest, always favouring Post, and I semi-stand by that decision. It’s got some great moments (almost all farmed for singles) but there are just too many duds of varing listenability inbetween that it makes it impossible for me to listen without a skip button within reach. Still, as far as Debuts go, I’ve certainly heard worse.
Keepers for the iPod: Human Behaviour, Venus as a boy, Big time sensuality, Come to me, Violently happy, Play dead
Next: “Post” (1995)