“I love my job sometimes,” cackles Björk. She’s explaining how, when she was touring her last album Post, she would call her engineer and suggest beats and rhythms. “Because I’m not a drum programmer I’d call him up and go ‘pssht...shtsss...crsht’ down the phone, and by the time I got home he had built up a library of more than 100 beats. I used those to start building a kind of mosaic.” That mosaic became part of the foundations for Homogenic, the third album from the Icelandic superstar which represents her most cohesive—and as if to spike all those ‘woman/child, space pixie’ comparisons —her most mature work to date.
Utilising a mix of dense, submerged beats and meticulously arranged orchestration courtesy of the Icelandic String Octet, Homogenic is an often contemplative but nonetheless compelling collection of songs where washes of sound are used as a backdrop for swooping, gymnastic vocals. “It all has one flavour, that’s why it’s called Homogenic,” says Björk, who confesses that she didn’t know this was a word not found in the Oxford English Dictionary ; “don’t blame me, I’m just an idiot foreigner.” But she also points out that that part of the title refers to her homeland. “My first two albums were about travelling away from Iceland, whereas this one is about going back.”
First single Jóga, a paean to one of her closest and oldest Icelandic friends, sets the tone, but there are many upbeat moments, not least second single Bachelorette and the brutally wild techno of stand-out track Pluto. “This is what I’m about musically,” says Björk, who is set to play a London date this Wednesday (Sept 17) as the final performance in a low-key tour of clubs where she has been trying out new material live with her collaborator, Mark Bell of techno pioneers LFO.
Homogenic marks a departure in a number of ways : not only did Björk produce the album, but its songs were all written relatively recently, in comparison with those for 1993’s Debut (which sold 600,000 copies in the UK) and 1995’s Post (which sold 400,000 copies and contained the 250,000-selling hit It’s Oh So Quiet). “Many of the songs on those albums I’d written years before,” she says, making the self-deprecating claim that 1993’s hit single Human Behaviour “is definitely the kind of song a 14-year-old girl would write”.
But there is no doubt that Björk is currently in touch with her muse. “It’s as though I’m defenceless, the songs are just coming as I’m feeling them,” she says. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, but it always feels as though I’m starting something new. I was singing when I was 11 years old, then I was writing lyrics, then melodies and arrangements and producing. Performing these songs live makes me feel like a 16- year-old punk rocker again, it’s really exciting.” Homogenic was recorded over four months in a residential studio in El Madronal, Spain. “It was a real luxury, something I’d always dreamed about, especially since the previous four years were so frantic,” says the singer.
Having tested the new material in a live context, she is now set on playing a series of larger gigs, including three London dates in December. Meanwhile, One Little Indian MD Angus Margerison rejects the notion that the uncompromising nature of Homogenic will hinder marketing of the album. “Joga received 14 plays on Radio One last week and we’re confident that, when Bachelorette is released, it will appeal to the ILR stations as well,” points out Margerison, who adds that appearances are being scheduled for Top Of The Pops and TFI Friday. The album’s spectacular cover, styled by fashion’s enfant terrible Alexander McQueen, will form the centrepiece for the marketing campaign.
It’s entirely natural that an artist as unique as Björk should gravitate to the outrageous McQueen. And even now she is contemplating introducing even more spontaneity to her life. “Recording Homogenic was the longest I’ve ever spent,” she says. “Next time around I’m thinking of maybe going back to Iceland. I’ve already got the pre-production in my head and I want to go back to the process of recording a song one day and mixing it the next. This is only pop music after all, and it should be as spontaneous as possible.”