Now we’re onto the GLITTERING JEWEL of the catalogue (unless I do a remarkable turnout on Volta). I didn’t need long to finish this one off, I know it practically back-to-front already. I’m not entirely sure when I got this, or how I got into it, but at one point it was my favourite going-to-sleep album.
Not to say it’s boring, far from it. But it’s perfect it listen to in the dark, sensory deprivation or something. More chances are taken on this than with Debut, and certainly more money is spent. Harsh-sounding mechanical beats sit alongside glorious orchestral pieces, and it just feel totally natural. Happily this represented the commercial peak for Bjork in the UK, with a No.2 album peak and her highest charting hit that EVERYONE knows.
10 Army of me – This beast of a single hisses to a menacing bassline straight away, leaving a cold, cruel-sounding Bjork to drop a bitch-bomb ultimatum on some poor idiot. Her vocals aren’t angry, but full of warnings. That chorus is just devastating isn’t it? I certainly wouldn’t want to meet an army of Bjorks. LOVE the video too, she’s pretty amazing on that front generally but she was really hitting her stride by this point.
10 Hyperballad – From that juggernaut, we move onto an altogether more delicate track, but still totally captivating. A great story to it, really paints the picture of this cheerful-sounding but emotionally worrying young lady. Is she happy in this relationship? Some sort of OCD creeping in isn’t anything to worry about, but imagining what her corpse would look like if she threw herself off a cliff … I think that’s a red flag. She delivers it with such an upbeat vocal though, it’s just odd and amazing. The production totally sends it to another level though, adding layers and beats, before some soaring strings send it off at the end. AMAZING. I miss this Bjork.
09 The modern things – How to follow up on this? Don’t try, just focus on the lyrics. A cute vision of modern-day machinery in hibernation for millions of years, waiting for noisy dinosaurs to hurry up and die. A buzzing bassline slowly unfolding into a beautifully simple first verse. When the machines finally rouse themselves, the pace quickens and the beats blend in like a passing train. Doesn’t quite have the impact of Army of Me, nor the grandeur of Hyperballad, but it doesn’t suffer by following them.
09 It’s oh so quiet – What’s the deal, this was curiously omitted from the (flop) Greatest Hits, despite it being her unquestionably biggest hit. Perhaps it’s because it’s a cover, I’m not sure. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the song, but I’m really back on board with it. I can hardly hold it against a Bjork song for “being a bit weird”, since most people seem to write her entire catalogue off for this reason. Not sure it quite blends in with the sound of this album, but it’s her signature tune. Great video, and no doubt did wonders for her worldwide profile.
08 Enjoy – More clunky industrial beats menacing our ears now, with the little brother of Army of Me sweeping away the glee of the previous track. Doesn’t have quite the impact of that track either, though it’s an interesting listen just for the production side of it. Maybe that’s the point, her vocals are drowned out by the thundering percussion. Not quite a singalong (even by her standards), but the pace is still great.
08 You’ve been flirting again – Time to slow it down now, with almost an interlude of a track. You can only imagine what the situation is here, with Bjork counselling somebody, presumably after a spat with a lover. Simple, with some more gorgeous strings drawing us along.
10 Isobel – I had no idea this was nearly 6 minutes long, it’s such a dream to listen to. A fairytale opening eases us into some gentle beats while Bjork opens her storybook. I’ve looked at the lyrics several times and I’m still not entirely sure what’s going on, but I find it’s just as enjoyable to sit back and let this gorgeous score wash over you. The production on this is particularly uplifting, I just can’t get over it.
09 Possibly Maybe – Is that the modem starting up? The video – in fact all this era’s videos – provides some really striking imagery to complement the music. All dark with fluorescence here and there, it really helped me love this song. I do struggle seeing why they thought it would be a single though. Very relaxed, with some lovely vocals, and that occasional synth riff. Some of the lyrics are great too … “who knows what’s going to happen? Lottery or car-crash, or you join a CULT”. Not something I’d really considered.
08 I miss you – A glimpse of the Bjork who made Debut, with more interesting beats, and a quite unhinged video from the makers of Ren & Stimpy. We’ve got everything here, chorus soundbites (“I miss you, but I haven’t met you yet”), synth-accordions, BONGOS, some pretty scatty sounding trumpets. Really layers up as we progress, and while it would never win the beauty contests swept by Hyperballad and Isobel, it’s a spiky interesting thing all of its own. What a finale too *trumpet explodes*
08 Cover me – On descent for the end of the album now, with some… is that a shamisen or something? Very sparse plucking noises, with Bjork barely whispering through through this mini-song. That instrument really is hypnotic isn’t it?
08 Headphones – Almost being dared to finish on something sparser than Cover Me, she does just that. A few occasional distant bleeps, shivering strings, sparkling jangles and some bassy blops are all we get as accompaniment. It’s almost like a lullaby, she’s almost asleep herself by the sounds of it. Perhaps this is a precursor to her more experimental (read: no melody) efforts in later life, something I wish I could have smothered at birth, but here it is. At least this is a dreamy end to an amazing album.
Am I overrating? Possibly. But please indulge me, since this is really one of my favourite albums of all time. And that’s all I have to say about that. I just wish she’d produce something this good again.
Keepers for the iPod: ALL OF IT
Next: Homogenic (1997)