At this point, it seems like Björk is one of those artists that is known for everything but the music she makes. Instead, we primarily hear about how weird she is, the swan dress, the music videos, and the various multimedia work she does. Talking to people my age, I sometimes feel like Björk is more of an abstract idea than an actual person: She represents the dreaded “weird music,” the type that just “isn’t for me” or is “too out there” for them to enjoy.
Now certainly, a lot of this is because Björk is, in fact, weird. But why is weirdness considered such a bad thing by so many people? Personally, I’ve always thought weirdness was one of the most crucial attributes for a musician — I frankly have very little interest in hearing some normal guy or girl playing music. I want to hear weirdos, the weirdest weirdos imaginable, the kind that make music because they’re so damn weird that music is the only thing they can do to keep what little shred of sanity they are still holding to. I want weirdos that are so weird that even other weirdo musicians find them weird.
I love Björk because she is a special kind of weirdo, gifted with an incredible voice that is one of the wonders of the modern world, but also with a knack for the avant garde and a relentless creative ambition. Obviously, her music won’t be everyone, but I think it’s far more accessible than most would think given all the second-hand things they often hear about her.
This brings me to Homogenic, which I consider to be the highlight of Björk’s magical career, and one that also represents one of the many changes in style for her. After her first two solo albums, “Debut” and “Post”, played up her quirky pixie image, Homogenic departed from that, instead focusing on cool strings and beats to create a much more ominous and grandiose sound. While “Post” was noted for being a hodge-podge of influences and styles, Homogenic was, as the title would suggest, a study of one sound.
That doesn’t mean the album is samey, but rather that it is incredibly consistent and cohesive while still having a lot of variety. When it was released in 1997, Homogenic was on the cutting edge of pop, electronic, dance, and avant-garde music, and nearly 15 years later it still feels that way to me. There are no dud tracks, and the album flows perfectly from each to the next, covering many different moods, from the looming opener “Hunter” to the magestic final track “All is Full of Love” (which, with its amazing robots-in-love music video, seems to be a precursor to just about all Pixar films).
In between, there are many other highlights that perfectly toe the line between accessibility and avant-garde. “Jóga” is one of the career highlights for Björk, a stately dedication to a friend and her homeland of Iceland. It’s likely the album’s most breathtaking moment and one of the most beautiful songs of the 90’s.
The most epic moment on the album is “Bachelorette,” which was conceived as a sequel of sorts to Post’s “Isobel.” It has a huge, foreboding sound with its thudding beats and Björk’s voice soars even more than usual. The music video, directed by Michel Gondry, is also one of the all-time greats (in general, the music videos of this album are fantastic and a testament to Björk’s appeal as an artist).
There are also quieter moments on Homogenic, including the lovely “Unravel”, as well as some of her more up-beat dance numbers like “Alarm Call”, which, like the rest of the album, also has great lyrics. Although hearing Björk say “I’m no fucking buddhist” is always jarring, as she doesn’t seem like she should be capable of swearing.
Overall, this is one of my favorite electronic and pop albums and I find it to be a perfect summation of Björk’s strengths as an artist. When people say they’re not sure if they’d like something like Björk, I usually tell them to listen to this album. I don’t think they ever do, but if they did, they may be surprised at how beautiful the music is, and how authentic Björk is compared to some of today’s musicians who just put on a weird costume and are considered artists because of it. Björk is the real deal, and I’ll always be a fan of her for that, even if others find her (and me) strange.
(Note: #6 in this series was Helium’s The Magic City. Read all about it here: https://thenoisemadebypeople.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/helium-the-magic-city/)