Review Summary: Both unafraid of relentlessly brash and bleak experiments unusual in pop music and relentless romanticism and lyricism unusual in much contemporary classical music.
In 2010, the volcano Eyjafjallajokull erupted and paralyzed all aviation in Northern Europe. The last time such an eruption had come from Iceland was probably in 1997 when Bjork paralyzed all contemporary pop music with her album Homogenic
. She really is like a volcano. All you can do is adapt to it and admire its lava, because she sure as hell won’t adapt to you. The restless, eyes-wide-open Post
might have brought Bjork her greatest commercial success, but try to catch a volcano in the shape of a pop star and she will crack back right at you. After some personal struggles – breaking up with boyfriends like Tricky and Goldie, having a crazy stalker and attacking a journalist at an airport – this became more and more clear.
She did crack back with Homogenic
. Starting on a nervous, bubbling rhythm, opening track [/i]Hunter[/i] finds her trying to “organize freedom”, surrounded by an ever-growing rhythm and tense strings. It’s the menace of the force of nature which pops out on the album, already on its second track Jóga
, where she blends huge, distorted beats with a pagan folk composition for strings. Winds start to blow and the ground starts shaking under the pressure she unleashes upon us.
The best thing about Homogenic
is that after these first two tracks, the tone has been set and we have been shaken into, rather than eased into, its aesthetic. It’s clear what Bjork has set out to do, and she blows it right in our face. Stiller songs like Unravel
and All Neon Like
find her singing tender lullaby’s to lovers gone or wounded. The latter finds her musing over ‘luminous beams’ healing both the physical and the psychological wounds. Its text is self-referential as it is high on electronic music metaphors over sets of crystal glasses and soft distortion. The former is a melancholic anthem about promiscuity (“the devil collects it/with a grin/our love/in a ball of yarn”) and a beautifully human song.
Then, next to those more subdued moments, are of course the screams and yells, the eruptions. The first of these to surface is one of Bjorks best-ever songs, the screaming despair of Bachelorette
, with a beautiful lyric by Sjón, over a loud arrangement of beats and strings. The lyric screams metaphorically of a relationship that gets the better of both partners. The rhythms in the piano and timpani are slightly reminiscent of a tango, but abstracted into a cutting-edge bed of distortion and noise flying around the head. A more simplified lyric is found on the folk-meets-noise 5 years
, with a stuttering, banging noise beat over which Bjork sings angrily about a partner who “can’t handle love”. The string arrangement reminds us of how aggressive classical music can be: high tremolo chords in fortissimo complement the beat in a total symbiosis of the acoustic and the electronic.
The album sags a bit after this series of highlights. Immature
isn’t bad per se - with its vocal humming and its minimal-electronic touch, courtesy of Mark Bell - but it doesn’t have the same impact as the rest of the album. The bouncy song Alarm Call
is out of tune with the album, and sounds more like a track off of Debut or Post. Its lyrics blend a series of mock new-age aphorisms (“I’m no f***ing Buddhist, but this is enlightenment”), to a funk beat, but as she sings “this is an alarm call, so wake up, wake up now”, it foreshadows the ultimate highlight of Homogenic
: the catharsis in the form of Pluto
. Three-and-a-half minutes of atonal, distorted hell breaking loose, with hardcore electronics, brooding strings doubling the voice that builds to a climax which is a minute of screaming. The song seems to be about the only possible way of being reborn is by dying hard and is one of the most monumental songs of Bjorks carreer.
And rebirth comes in All Is Full of Love
, in an ethereal version by Howie B, which surrounds the listener with washes of electronics, clavichord, accordion, and surrounds him with the repeated phrase “all is full of love”, moving from left to right, from front to back, capturing you wherever you wander around. In combination with Pluto
, this is the most heartbreaking album finale one could imagine, and after the dense structures and textures on the palette here, light shines through.
After listening to the entirety of Homogenic
, you feel like you have been challenged, comforted, loved, dumped, hurt and found love again. It’s a concept album from beginning to end, drawing the listener exactly into the moods it wants, all framed by intricate and intelligent string arrangements, challenging, distorted beats and Bjorks voice and abstract lyricism as a force of nature at the middle of it all. Post might have been her most accomplished album when it came to popularity, but here she seems ready for the kill. Homogenic
covers the entire mood spectrum while remaining in one flavour, which makes it an admirably concentrated effort.
came the definitive proof that Bjork is not merely a pop singer: she’s a forward-thinking mind in the contemporary music landscape and, with a little help from her friends (here, for example, Mark Bell, Eumir Deodato and Sjón played an important role), she can accomplish making the most daring and interesting pop music yet imagined.