Review Summary: Few female artists have produced albums as challenging as Bjork and "Debut" sets the agenda with some of her most compelling songs.
“Rock and Roll is so passé, so yesterday. Pop music is more important than art”, said Bjork on the release of “Debut” in 1993. Undoubtedly her view was provocative, but for all the quirky, cute innocence she outwardly portrayed there was, and still is a knowing determination to make music that has an expressive purpose that binds both experimentalism and popular musical culture seamlessly. She would insist that “Debut” was merely a stepping stone to greater things, an opportunity to develop her skills as a solo artist and establish a style and content distinctly different to that of The Sugarcubes. Her modest views belie the value of this collection, and for many fans this remains her greatest achievement, showcasing an unerring ability to successfully marry a vast array of styles including pop, dance, electronic, house, jazz and trip-hop. The glue that holds such ambitious intentions is Bjork’s skilful song writing, mainly themed around a joyous celebration of love, and of course her unique vocal style which swoops effortlessly through octaves somewhere between a screaming banshee, a distant melodious mantra from an uncharted heaven and a young child, fresh and untainted by the ills of this world.
“Debut” owes much to the cast list of contributors, all cleverly selected by Bjork. Soul II Soul’s Nellee Hooper brings the polished dance rhythms and co writing credits for five of the songs. Veteran jazz musician Corky Hale adds a beautifully understated Harp accompaniment to the Van Heusen/Burke penned classic, “Like Someone In Love”. The gentle bossa nova rhythms of “Aeroplane” and the starkly mysterious “Anchor Song” are both enlivened by jazz saxophonist Oliver Lake. The album would host a staggering four hit singles (five if one includes the tagged on David Arnold produced “Play Dead”), helped in no small part by some of the most innovative promotional videos ever seen.
Of the singles, “Human Behaviour” stands out as one of Bjork’s most memorable recordings. The slowed down four to the floor house rhythm with bass drums beating out a jungle call overlaid with a vocal track that dynamically displays the singer’s range as she takes the perspective of an animal studying the human emotion. “Big Time Sensuality” and “Violently Happy” are far more than disposable dance numbers, as the singer adds a rare warmth to the mechanized rhythms, taking the songs way beyond the dancefloor. “Venus As A Boy” is the sweetest of odd love songs, combining a chilled reggae pace with a keyboard/vibraphone melody that skips around Bjork’s vocal line with the simple whimsy of a child’s rhyme. The heartfelt yearning of “Come To Me” is supported by a serenely spacious arrangement that includes an exotic eastern backing with added tabla and sub continental string effects.
Bjork would distance herself from the success of “Debut”, almost dismissively stating "It's hard to judge yourself but I don't think [the early albums are] my best. Debut was the album that went the highest up there in terms of what is 'Bjork music'. But I think that the persona I created, which was entirely accidental, is better captured on the later albums." Without appearing confrontational, this album is as important, dynamic and enjoyable as any of her later recordings. Few female artists have produced albums as challenging as Bjork and this sets the agenda.