BJÖRK: HOMOGENIC (1997)
1) Hunter; 2) Jóga; 3) Unravel; 4) Bachelorette; 5) All Neon Like; 6) 5 Years; 7) Immature; 8) Alarm Call; 9) Pluto; 10) All Is Full Of Love.
Doctor, we're losing her. If you want to call Homogenic the pinnacle / zenith / Olympus of all things Björk-related, you can make a great case for this, but even you will have to admit that the lady is getting a little... distant, perhaps? The cunning little sprite of Debut and Post has matured into a full-blown Lady of the Mountain, who no longer wishes to be playful and innocent, or is no longer capable of it. These songs are still gorgeous, and, to some extent, still accessible, but the production, the lyrics, the singing style, everything has evolved to the state that you are not supposed to «enjoy» these songs — you're supposed to kowtow. I mean, how is it even possible to look at that Alexander McQueen-designed sleeve photo and not kowtow? That sure ain't no frickin' Cio-Cio San staring you down from the front cover.
Still, I guess it had to be done, because no other album in the world sounds quite like Homogenic — and besides, if we're talking pretentiousness justified by atmosphere, I'd rate this over OK Computer in a jiffy, my usual predilection towards guitar music over electronic music notwithstanding. It is usually said that the album was mostly a tribute from Björk to her native Iceland, but it certainly goes well beyond that, and not just because of the extra Japanese motifs on the album sleeve. The soundscapes throughout are «icy» indeed, but due to the constant pressure of electronic texture, this «iciness» is more of a sci-fi, astral nature, so when you take your first listen to ʽHunterʼ, you might get a glimpse of the singer zipping through space, or, rather, as it happens, freezing space and time all around her so that it might be easier for her to go out hunting. There is a local reference in there as well ("I thought I could organize freedom / How Scandinavian of me"), but it is of no crucial importance, nor are the lyrics in general of any crucial importance — if you try and go for a more or less literal interpretation (transformation into a hunter = gaining of personal independence and self-sufficiency), it becomes way too boring.
What is not boring at all is admiring all the overlays — the overdriven martial pummelling of the programmed drums, the silky psychedelic cobwebs of the electronics, the strings adding a mid-Eastern vibe, the ghostly harmonies — this is a soundtrack to something completely different, the invention of an alternate world with alternate musical (and God knows what other) values, over which Björk has crowned herself freedom-organizing queen. You probably don't want to live there unless you're seriously deranged — too cold, too spooky, too unpredictable — but you are given the option to take a look from afar, and that's plenty already.
The Amazing Exploding Percussion on ʽJógaʼ (don't forget the accent sign, since the song has nothing to do with yoga, being named after one of Björk's personal friends) is said to be a tribute to Icelandic volcanic activity, but, once again, nobody is forcing anybody to narrow down the vision: she is singing about "emotional landscapes", after all, not "geographical" ones, and the famous chorus — "state of emergency, is where I want to be" — can hardly be related to Iceland, a country where people are said to be rather rarely found in a state of emergency (unless one of the volcanoes does erupt, I guess). What matters is the cathartic height of that voice, the soaring strings, and the electronic base all combining in an anthemic chorus that speaks this bizarre language, combining familiar sounds in such unusual ways. «Strange beauty» indeed, a fitting spiritual anthem for the era of the quark and the quantum.
The epicness reaches its peak on ʽBacheloretteʼ, a song that begs for you to envision Björk on the top of a tall, narrow cliff rising into the epicenter of a snow storm, but maybe that imagery was deemed too pretentious to be incorporated in the accompanying video. It is a damn risky song, taking so many chances that it teeters on the brink of crashing under its own weight, and, in fact, every time I see Björk doing it live, I can't get rid of a funny thought like "what's a little girl like this doing, singing a huge song like that?" But it works — it chooses all the right notes, tones, and overlays to show that the ʽIsobelʼ of Post has finally transformed from some potentially dangerous, but rather amusing and cuddly entity into a demonic, tragic, and presumably lethal creature — or, at least, inaccessible. Who'd want to connect or relate to "a fountain of blood in the shape of a girl", or a "path of cinders burning under your feet"? The strings wail with such desperation, and the bass keys rumble with such a sense of doom that there are only two ways to go — hate this crap as an overblown theatrical put-on, or kowtow. For now, I'm kowtowing.
These three big singles are probably the pivots around which we launch the smaller satellites, but the album is definitely consistent. Some of the more personal, intimate moments are to be found within its folds — ʽUnravelʼ is a song of longing and yearning, an emotional state so tailor-made for Björk's voice that one wonders why it is not generated more often; ʽ5 Yearsʼ boards us back on the train of «I hate indecision and indecisive people!», with arguably the best bit of roaring on the entire record (at least, roaring that is not electronically enhanced, as it is on ʽPlutoʼ); ʽImmatureʼ is a self-reprisal for a moment of weakness in which — fancy that! — the protagonist makes the awful mistake of relying upon somebody else, with a masterful vocalization on the chorus, each syllable of it getting its own flourish (no melismata, though, thank God).
But the coda, calming us and smoothly bringing it all back home after the wild sonic ravage of ʽPlutoʼ, is still an anthem — the Beatles had ʽAll You Need Is Loveʼ, implying a certain shortage of the stuff, and Björk has ʽAll Is Full Of Loveʼ, implying, in a rather pantheistic twist, that one only has to know where to look. The problem is, she is not being very convincing, because so far, she's given us everything except for the understanding of whether she actually has a clue about what love really is. Is there at all a thing like a «Björk love song»? Whatever be the case, her idea of «love» and how to express it in music is so far from conventional, you'd think it wasn't really love she was talking about. The music of ʽAll Is Full Of Loveʼ is meditative, soothing, and hypnotizing, but putting the listener in a transcendental state is not quite the same as conveying a sense of pleasure or interpersonal affection. Then again, you wouldn't really expect Ms. Isobel-Bachelorette to share the average person's layman interpretation of love, would you? All I am saying is that ʽAll Is Full Of Loveʼ will probably not leave you feeling warm and cuddly all over, but it might manipulate you into realizing that all is full of Björk (or, if you are of the cynical persuasion, that Björk is full of... never mind).
A great, epic album, but also a tragic one, since it is always sad to see a human being cease being a human being and begin being an alien entity of questionable organic constitution — the album title being a good indication of this: Homogenic, not Human. From here on, Björk's further career can almost be predicted, with all of its highs and lows, as her conscience set out on a journey all its own, rarely crossing paths with basic human nature. But in the long run, it was worth it — anybody can choose a cut-off point in following any particular artist, and even if one were to argue that Homogenic destroyed Björk (which is not quite true, but looks good on paper), it would still be one of the awesomest self-destructions in the history of popular music. You are basically witnessing the nirvanization of a person, as she melts into little streaks of particles and vibrations right before your eyes on the ʽAll Is Full Of Loveʼ finale. When she returns back from the other side, she'll never be the same again. A thumbs up rating does not even begin to do this weird pantheistic record proper justice.