Review Summary: A restless, eyes-wide-open experiment, the crest of Björk's hit-making years.
Björk's an odd, restless artist who never will cease experimenting. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Her life in the 1990's was one of unexpected pop stardom, getting to know how it is to live in the city, coming from the comparatively rural Iceland, and getting to know new styles, new vibes, new people.
She concluded 1993's Debut
with the line: "this is where I'm staying/this is my home". But restless as she is, her second album, 1995's Post
starts without the domestic subtlety that line would suggest. It bangs in with an industrial beat on Army of me
a song about wanting someone to grow up and get self-sufficient. It's restless, atonal, bubbling squarewave bass never stops, and the refrain screams out of it like an angry, anguished cry.
An enormous contrast comes on the second track, which may be Björk's best song ever, it's the classic Hyperballad
, which tells about a person almost getting into a suicidal mood for wanting to be safe afterwards. The track starts off with deep sub-basses, soon complemented by high strings, a brushed snare rhythm and Björk drawing us into a dreamy, MDMA-like landscape of bitterness which has to exist to create lust for life. It expands ever more into a Eurodisco landscape with soaring strings, repeated cries of "safe up here with you" - just sheer beauty with groundbreaking electronics.
An optimistic track on technology follows in the form of The Modern Things
which is a nicely crafted song with a childlike lyric about how modern things have "come out to multiply/and take over". It's a funny song which fails to get to the same standard as the rest of the album. The "musical promiscuity" of the album is highlighted by her screaming-out-loud interpretation of the jazz song It's Oh, So Quiet
, a classic in her repertoire in which her voice soars over a bigband landscape.
is an aggressive and fantastic song celebrating a rough kind of sexual behaviour over an unnerving soundscape and beat, with loud, distorted sounds, crazy trumpet and lyrics about "sex without touching". An exploration of weird electronic timbres and dense soundscapes. On the heels of this is its necessary antidote, the understated, unbelievably beautiful You've been flirting again
with an abstract lyric about love above a concentrated, slow string arrangement.
She continues on this winning strike with Isobel
, an abstract fairytale with a lush feel to it. It evokes Gershwin's Summertime
from 'Porgy and Bess' (in fact: these are the chords) and enthralls the listener. Björk acts as the muse of nature, and nature is her muse. The whistling, cooing and string arrangements complement the track greatly. It contrasts with the next track, the minimal electronic Possibly Maybe
which chronicles in a lot of crafty verses a troubled relationship. Some of Björk's finest lyrics are in this song, which is able to make me cry. Its catchy chorus also helps to amplify its feel.
I miss you
, although a bit short on lyrical power, bursts with musical energy. From the restless brass melodies to the funky beat underneath with glitches and screams layered all over, this is an enormous, passionate succes. A final outburst before receding into introspection.
The diptych Cover Me
, with a spare backing of harpsichord and ambient noises playing together in harmony most reminiscent of Olivier Messiaen's work is alienating, foreboding, but beautiful. "This is very dangerous", she hisses, "cover me". And it is - adventurous, dangerous and an extraordinary entry on an album that has spawned three hits. It fades into Headphones
, which should be listened with a pair of those on. It's an ode to music, and as Björk describes what is going on, it is going on. From the "sounds [that] go through muscles", when a deep sub-bass squarewave drones through your body to the track lulling you asleep as the album closes. Its vocal experimentations, beautifully abstract sound design make it a highlight.
If you first listen to the pretty good Debut
and then to this, it's like the world has opened up with all musical possibilities both for the artist and for the listener. Experiment and eyes-wide-open as though you're in the most soaring drug high ever float around between earth, nature, city and dancehall. And she's here to welcome us into this dangerous territory. One of the best albums of her carreer.