27 November 2006

Björk - Post & Debut

To pause from the recent articles of indie sensations and what could be interpreted as "trying to be cool" (indeed, I do my best), I'm going to take a pause and write about a shameless pop artist. Björk really does have an amazing voice, and in her first two albums she used it in fairly formulatic dancey pop numbers, that were all over MTV 10 years ago.
Firstly, after an interesting background of weird Icelandic punk bands that several biographers describe in great legnth, Björk settled down into solo work and released Debut - a pop album. It's like modern electronic disco pop. There's nothing quite like it, but I know from the thumping rhythmic timpani of the opening, and standout, track, Human Behaviour, that it seriously makes me wanna dance! Sitting here in my computer chair it's all I can do to stop myself nodding my head and tapping my feet. This dancey feel is built up in the next track, Crying, which features a catchy bassline, and layers of unindentifiable sound - is the bass played on a piano? Is that pan-pipes? Could this be vibraphone? The singles stick to the classic pop structures. Such is Venus as a Boy, which features dense strings, but none of the dance rhythm. Then comes one of the most noteworthy tracks, "There's More to Life than This". Recorded live, Björk apparently runs off, with the microphone, into a toilet halfway through the song, emerging back out as the band 'crescendo' again. But of course the album shows its flaws. Like Someone in Love is simply boring. It's a cover of some ballad, set to a harp, which could have worked, but it's just slow and repetetive. It doesn't work with the upbeat mood of the album at all. Even Violently Happy, a single, shouldn't really last 5 minutes, again it gets rather tedious. Although she insists: "I'm driving my car too fast with ecstatic music on", you wouldn't really guess it from the poor tune. The repetition is my main problem, which recurs a bit in all the tracks, really, which I guess is to be expected in pop music. The 2nd half of the album is a little disappointing - until, that is, you hear the fantastic Play Dead. It almost didn't make the album, almost didn't boost its popularity, and almost left it completely obscure. Björk recorded it for a soundtrack a few months after Debut's release, and due to its astounding popularity, she re-released the album with Play Dead on the end. And, with a link to the other single (Big Time Sensuality), I leave Debut to discuss the similarly different Post.

Post is, unfortunately, remembered for It's Oh So Quiet, a fact which most Björk fans (including me, and Björk herself), resent. It's an unoriginal cover of a broadway song that really grabs attention with the tumultuous brass, and wide dynamic contrast from "sshhh", to "You fall in love - ZING BOOM! The sky up above - ZING BOOM! Is caving in - [B]WOW! BAM![/B]", literally screamed. Anybody who listened to the album, however, remembers the wide range of songs, from Enjoy, a dark trip-hop beat, to Isobel, a cryptic song about a very mysterious woman. I can't fathom it at all. It just goes to show: the lyrics are much deeper. Hyper-Ballad (live version is fantastic) in particular is thought-provoking, the story of a woman who throws trinkets off a cliff is one day overcome by the thought "What if that was me?" The songs are frequently darker, and more grungy-sounding. First single Army of Me
shows this perfectly, it pounds through your head and is infectious as hell! Another one of my favourites is I Miss You, which slowly adds instruments, eventually creating a percussive, animated work of genius. The songs can be more subdued, for instance Possibly Maybe, but I much prefer the lively or moody songs. The final track, Headphones, is a quiet but penetrating vocal tapestry that achieves perfection yet again. It's very hard to pick a favourite track. Overall, it's clear that Post is a much more varied album, one that I much prefer to Debut. The problem of repetition is fixed, and Björk explores new territory, most notably trip-hop, which shapes much of her later career.

If you've read all this, given Björk a chance, and not found Debut and Post to be your cup of tea, I fully understand. So can Dawn French. Even if you're with me, this parody is hilarious!

Wikipedia articles: [1] [2], Amazon Pages: [1][2], professional reviews: [1] [2].

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