After three records (four if you include her fearsomely outré soundtrack to Drawing Restraint 9) that saw Björk retreat further and further away from the feather-light, prancing pop of her Debut pomp, news that Volta was a less hermetical affair, was, in fact, maybe even a party record, made some of us, if not violently happy, then at least little relieved.
Not that we haven’t cheered on from the sidelines as Björk went toe-to toe with many of the world’s most extreme production talents before, very clearly, bending them all into shapes of her own choosing. Or that we haven’t been thrilled by the sight of a striking popular figure following their art in a single-minded manner that stands fair comparison with no one other than Scott Walker. But in the middle of all her laudable experiments with click-hop, and Icelandic folk tunings, and Japanese nose flutes, one question over the last 10 years has constantly reoccurred : where have the tunes gone ? We were, after all, dealing with the person behind Venus as a Boy, Hit (from her Sugar cubes days) and Big Time Sensuality.
Initially with Volta all the signs look good. It is clearly the liveliest and most outwards looking record she’s made this decade. Across many of the songs there is pounding, martial almost tribal sounding drumming that stand in direct contrast to the introverted, subterranean beats she’s been working on of late. And she’s also hitched her wagon to someone who looks like an ideal mate to get her out of the house and back on the dance-floor. Given Timbaland’s penchant for strong-willed, sonically inquisitive female performers (Missy, Aaliyah), and Bjork’s yen for gents who like to lurk productively behind a mixing desk (Nellee Hooper, Tricky, Goldie, Mark Bell) the pair’s eventual hooking up was in hindsight every bit as inevitable as the pneumatic Playboy model, and the over rated Premiership roaster. But does it work ?
Hmmm. Earth Intruders (single released May 19), Innocence and Hope - the three products of the union – are all intriguing curios. But ultimately, they’re much less exciting than we would hope from a pair of such towering curve ball talents. Likewise, Björk singing with Antony Hegarthy sounds like a dream prospect. Dull Flame of Desire, however is hugely underwhelming. Nothing Björk does is ever less than provocative and Volta (containing lyrics such as « What’s the lesser of two evils ? / If a suicide bomber made to look pregnant / Manages to kill her target or not ? ») is typically brave, perplexing and audacious. But just don’t expect it to force you out of your seat.