Now Magazine

Björk’s brilliant Debut bridges Jazz and Pop

Pop diva Björk hits strides with an excellent, though tough to categorize, new disc.

Like many artists’ solo projects, the release of Surgarcube Björk Guðmundsdóttir’s enchanting and spectacularly diverse new Debut album has brought with it an avalanche of misconceptions.

Contrary to popular belief, the Sugarcubes have not broken up, and Björk’s Debut album is not technically her debut solo album. If you count an eponymously titled pop album released in Iceland in 1977—when she was 12 years old—and her enjoyably twisted Icelandic jazz project Gling-Gló, in 1990, Debut is actually Björk’s third solo release.

And for some reason—possibly because Nellee Hooper of Soul II Soul fame produced Debut and rising techno wiz Speedy J knock off a fab underground house remix of the lead single, Human Behavior—there’s an assumption that Debut is Björk’s entree into the dark world of danceclub music.

In fact, Björk slips deftly in and out of so many stylistic conventions—from bellowing her skewed view of pop to crooning a standard such as Like Someone in Love with touchy finesse—that Debut defies easy categorization. With elegant acoustic arranges of saxophone, piano, and harp, Debut bears all the creative spontaneity of jazz with none of the genre’s conceit.

EMOTIONAL MUSIC

“There are lots of misconceptions about my music,” grumbles Björk from the kitchen of her London home, munching on carrots. “People always want to classify what you do. I feel what I’m doing now is a natural continuation of what I’ve been doing in Iceland for the last 10 years. So I would rather everyone just think of this music as ‘Björk music.’

“Lately, I have been inspired by the music of Sun Ra, mainly because of its absractness. I’m not trying to sound deep, I just find it timeless. Sun Ra is one of the few people of his generation who remained true to the spirit and attitude of jazz music. To me that means saying ‘Fuck the rules !’ You start at ground zero and you remain totally open-minded about what you create. Music is about expressing an emotion, not restating a series of stale phrases.

“Some of Sun Ra’s best tunes are very simple, so simple a child could understand them and a person from another culture could get it. The best music is simple and direct. Music doesn’t need complexity to hide dishonesty, it should stare you straight in the face and speak to you. Music shouldn’t be made for an elite crowd who have learned how to appreciate it. It should have the ability to affect anyone, anywhere.”

One of Debut’s most provocative songs, an obvious choice for the first single, is Human Behavior, which deals with human nature from the perspective of animals. the song is also the subject of one of the year’s finest videos, an enthralling stop-action animation epic created by Parisian director Michel Gondry, in which hunters tracking a menacing giant teddy bear become the hunted.

That Björk herself winds up in the stomach of the fluffy, saw-toothed beast at the fairy tale’s end suggest’s the social conscience of a dedicated animal-rights activist. Or so one might assume. If you did, you’d be wrong.

SMELLY CAUSES

“Personally,” she continues cautiously, “I think a lot of these animal rights causes smell a bit. Of course people should treat animals with respect. They shouldn’t be used to test cosmetics or used to make music videos. But I don’t get the difference between eating some carrots and eating a rabbit. How much difference is there between cutting down trees to make a book and cooking up a lamb chop ?

“Don’t misunderstand—I think groups like Greenpeace have done many brilliant things. But there are also problems with Greenpeace. When the organization began, many of its members were from Germany. For them to march into Greenland and tell the indigenous people to stop killing seals is completly ridiculous.

“What right have these people, from big industrial cities like Frankfurt, which contribute a lot of pollution, to tell people who live in harmony with nature not to eat seals ? What are they supposed to eat ? Snow ?

“In our modern society, being affiliated with an organized religion is not seen as something cool. So instead, animal rights groups are being adopted by people as heir religion. The problem begins when people start to see things in black and white. These large groups tend to generalize very complex issues without looking to see what is really going on. Each situation much be judged individually.

“I come from Iceland, a society where people hunt all the time. I guess it must seem very primitive, but people don’t kill more than they need. No matter how you look at it, we are on this planet and we kill some things and we bring other things to life—that’s the name of the game. it’s a question of whether or not you do it with respect.”

Tim Perlich

publié dans Now Magazine - 01.11.1993

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