There are moments on Björk’s new CD “Vespertine” that sound like Madonna’s recent albums—all icy keyboards, skittering beats and hushed voices singing about inner spirituality.
Yet when Madonna delves into the ethereal side of techno, it seems like just another one of her fashion accessories. Björk’s strange soundscapes sound like they’re bubbling straight up from the dark corners of her soul.
The Icelandic singer has always been one of rock’s most arresting mystics. Starting out in the late-‘80s as the lovable art-rock pixie at the helm of the Sugarcubes, she grew progressively weirder—and bolder—on solo albums like “Debut” (1993), “Post” (1995) and “Homogenic” (1997).
“Vespertine” is another intriguing chapter in Bjork’s long, strange trip. Part woman, part child, part sister from another planet, she flits around the disc like a cosmic butterfly.
Lyrically, things start off simply enough with songs about love, God and the pursuit of a Zen existence. Despite its demented video (complete with purple goo dripping from Bjork’s orifices) “Hidden Place” is a straightforward tale about the protective shield of a relationship.
Yet by mid-CD, Bjork takes a sharp left turn into songs describing divine solar particles (“Aurora”), the “mystery of my flesh” (“Sun in My Mouth,” featuring words by e.e. cummings) and her most bizarre dreams (“I swallow warm glowing lights” she sings in “Heirloom”).
When she ends the album by singing “I have grown my own private branch off this tree,” you’re inclined to agree with her.
Coming from most singers, lyrics like those could simply be annoying. But they fit well inside Bjork’s gorgeous off-kilter music and voice.
Brimming with minor chords and overcast melodies, “Vespertine” isn’t always an easy listen. Still, many of the songs are uplifting, thanks to Bjork’s psychedelic mish-mash of violins, music boxes and angelic choirs. “Hidden Place” and the clavichord-laden “It’s Not Up to You” are like Enya on an Ecstasy-acid speedball.
Yet the most mind-bending sound on the disc is Bjork’s wonderful spastic-elastic voice. With her heavy Icelandic/European accent and her odd sense of phrasing, she sounds like a jazz diva singing in baby-talk.
It’s a voice steeped in Dadaism, and it’s a definite acquired taste. But for songs bearing titles like “An Echo, a Stain” and “Sun in My Mouth,” it’s also a voice that works perfectly.