Review Summary: A pop classic with a lot of personality
In 1992, as her college rock band the Sugarcubes were winding down, Björk began work with producer Nellee Hooper on her debut album. Her label didn't have high expectations at the time; according to Björk, they predicted it would sell a third of what the Sugarcubes sold. However, there's nothing tentative about Debut. It's undoubtedly the most accessible and recognizably pop of Björk's albums but is laced with an infectious sense of optimism and possibility, and Björk comes in full force with her really unique songwriting skills. The result is a pop classic, deservedly acclaimed and popular.
Musically, Debut is quite accessible but still has a very inventive personality. The hooks on these songs are incredibly catchy, especially on “Big Time Sensuality.” Debut is probably the most immediately tuneful of all of Björk's albums in fact. Besides being catchy, Debut has a lot of interesting influences. There's strong jazz and bossa nova influences in a few of these songs, and it's done really well. “Human Behaviour” samples a song from bossa nova pioneer Antônio Carlos Jobim, and “Aeroplane” has strong bossa vibes too, particularly in its instrumentation. Her version of the standard “Like Someone in Love” features jazz harpist Corky Hale and “Come to Me” and “The Anchor Song” are based in jazz pop. These influences bring a fresh and interesting sound that complements her vocals beautifully. Unlike a lot of lounge, bossa nova, and jazz pop-inflected music from the 90s, there's a lot of passion on display here, lyrically and musically, and the songs never fade into the background because they are both very catchy and feature some really interesting arrangements. The horn arrangements on “Aeroplane” and “The Anchor Song” are particularly good, very gorgeous and angular-sounding.
Besides the more jazz-oriented influences, producer Nellee Hooper left a big stylistic imprint on Debut. “One Day” especially is quite reminiscent of his work with Soul II Soul, and much of the album has a strong early 90s pop-house feel. It might seem dated, but it's bolstered by Björk's beautiful vocal performances and the general charm of the songs. A lot of that charm comes from Björk's lyrics. It seems like Björk's lyrics are often overlooked or written-off, but I think she's quite a talented lyricist. There's quite an exciting feeling on Debut's lyrics; it seems like anything could happen. “I don't know my future after this weekend / and I don't want to,
” she sings on “Big Time Sensuality,” and you really believe her. “One Day” has some particularly nice visual images such as “An aeroplane will curve gracefully around the volcano with the eruption that never lets you down, / I can feel it.
” It's an incredibly emotional album. Nothing illustrates that better than “Violently Happy.” Its lyrics illustrate really well the confusion and complicated emotional states love can cause. There's a lot of great metaphors she uses, like “I'm daring people to jump off roofs with me. / Only you can calm me down.
” Between the really strong lyrics and tunes, it's very easy to get lost in the songs despite their perhaps dated nature.
Debut signalled the start of a bright future for Björk. That's not just because of the quality of the songs or the critical and commercial success of the album; you can really feel that sense of excitement when listening to it. Listening to Debut, it's still 1993, we can still nick a boat and sneak off to that island, we can still get the best bread of the morning. Who wouldn't want to come along for the ride?