The Guardian

Utopia review – a lush, airy fresh start ★★★★☆

To talk of Björk’s Utopia as a rebirth is no stretch. On the cover of her ninth solo album she emerges as though from an iridescent caul. Her forehead has been modified into a uterine shape ; pearls fall from fallopian flowers.

It wouldn’t be a stretch either to note that after the austere, extreme Vulnicura – the 2015 album that marked the pain and fury of Björk’s separation from the father of her daughter – Utopia harkens back to the nature love of older albums such as Biophilia and Vespertine, and the default lust for life Björk has exhibited throughout her long career.

The sounds here are airy and lush, suggesting naturescapes and freedom. (On the bloopy, wonderful Claimstaker, Björk actually sings : “The forest is in me”.) Birdsong from as far afield as Venezuela and Iceland, and its human analogue, flute music, define the sonics. On the cover, Björk not only holds a flute, she has two holes drilled into her throat and, startlingly, next to them sits a dead, or underdeveloped, chick.

Themes emerge gradually. The Gate describes obliquely, in music and words, Björk’s passage from the darkness of the Vulnicura emotions back into the light of love. Blissing Me hints at a new affair – texting each other too much, the electricity of touch. The song Courtship, perhaps the most overtly “pop” song here, makes plain Björk’s recent claim that Utopia is her “Tinder album” : “He turned me down,” she winks. “I then downturned another.”

There is another, more overarching concept : Björk’s aural vision of utopia is a faraway isle peopled by women and children, a sensual and sensible place unlike our own troubled world. Again, jungle birds and flutes feature, the flutes played by an all-female Icelandic ensemble assembled by Björk for the purpose.

There are traces of the bad old world. Sue Me riffs hard on male wrongdoing. “He took it from his father who took it from his fatherrrr,” she sings. “Let’s break this curse, so it won’t fall on our daughterrrr and her daughterrrs.” You can’t ever quite separate the work of Björk from the work of her collaborator, Arca, the Venezuelan-born, London-based Alejandro Ghersi, who also worked on Vulnicura, but his dark digital hand is slightly more evident here, in the unanchored beats and sinister, pitch-shifted vocal presence.

The electrifying Tabula Rasa is even more specific, speaking of Björk’s “deepest wish”. “We are swollen from hiding his affairs,” Björk mourns as flutes sigh. She wants to wipe the slate clean. “Tabula rasa for my children/ Not repeating the fuck-ups of the fathers/ For us women to rise and not just take it lying down.” Later, the discussion widens out, away from the personal. “Embarrassed to pass this mess on to you,” Björk aches. Eventually, rain falls.

Traditionalists might still wonder where all the nice steady beats have gone, why so little music here is anchored. The dominant message, though, is of limitlessness, of hope and, on Future Forever, of “a matriarchal dome” with “musical scaffolding”.

Kitty Empire

publié dans The Guardian - 26.11.2017

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