PopMatters

Homogenic Live

Björk
Homogenic Live
(One Little Indian)
US release date : 1 June 2004
UK release date : 10 May 2004

If you stepped off of a desert island anytime within the past two years and headed down to your local
record store to see what Björk was up to, you might take one look at her recent spate of releases and jump
to the conclusion that she was dead. Since the release of her critically acclaimed Vespertine album in 2001,
Björk and her record label have pulled the famed “dead star” marketing move, emptying the vaults of
every possible piece of recorded material, and then releasing it again under a different name or in an
alternate format. In this short window Björk’s name has been attached to a greatest hits collection, the
Family Tree box set, the Live Box set featuring a live album to coincide with each studio album, and finally
the individual release of each live album from the Live Box in June of this year. While rumors persist that
Björk is alive and well, readying her new album of original material for release in August, in the interim
we are left to sort through a rag tag assemblage of musical hand-me-downs that leave us with more
questions than answers.

The studio album, and resulting tour, Live Homogenic chronicles is a classic display of showmanship as
Björk subtly reinvents herself with the use of subtle electronics, grand orchestration, dynamic vocal
performances and her usual accompaniment of ethereal songs. The shift is a significant one as she distances
herself from many of the radio and dance floor ready offerings that blanketed her first two solo records in
lieu of a darker, more difficult sound. Despite the haunting beauty of the original Homogenic album, Live
Homogenic is a pretty tepid affair. It fails to meet the three key criteria for a successful live album : it does
not feature startling new arrangements that present the listener with an alternate perspective of the
songs recorded for the album ; it is recorded over an entire year, some live and some for television so it
lacks the cohesiveness of an entire live show from the same evening or series of performances on a number
of consecutive evenings ; there is little fan interplay so at times it sounds like a marginal studio recording
rather than a dynamic live album. However, the album is not without charm.

One of the major winning points is that it incorporates Homogenic favorites like “Hunter”, “Joga” and
“Pluto” with past hits “Human Behavior” and “Isobel”. Björk sounds provocative as she tears through
these tracks with an acuity that proves her outstanding studio work is the real deal and not manufactured
in post-production. The larger issue is that her backing band is content to simply retread the proven
arrangements for these songs rather than reinterpret them in any way. Because preprogrammed beats
and synthesizers are so essential to Björk’s sound this leaves her little room to improvise. The one time
where she finds the space is with a brief Michael Jackson scat in “I Go Humble”. What could have been a
glorious crowd stirring moment ends up feeling harried as Björk is forced by the calculating machines to
jump to the next verse before she can truly explore and exploit the compelling lyrical segue.

Loyalists to Björk are sure to focus on the authenticity of these live collections. They will say that these
are historical markers of the beauty and majesty of Björk’s voice and her compositions. It will also be
mentioned that Live Homogenic is evidence that electronic music can be made human and interesting in a
larger rock style concert setting. I’m sure her rabid fan base will also mention that any criticism of these
works as live albums is unfair as they were not specifically recorded for commercial release, rather they
are artifacts documenting a powerful transitional moment in Björk’s career. The truth of the matter is
they are correct on every count. Björk’s album Homogenic was a landmark release in blending the beat
conscious melodicism of electronica with the sensibility of a world-class vocalist. It brought lap top music
beyond a certain niche and familiarized many with an under-represented genre of music. Beyond all
expectations, Homogenic even mobilized these sounds and put them on tour in a grand setting for all the
world to hear. The problem is that Live Homogenic fails to share any new insights into the inner workings
of Björk and her live experience, telling us little more than what we already learned with the release of its
parent album seven years ago.

Jason Korenkiewicz

publié dans PopMatters - 14.07.2004

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