The Observer

Björk, Volta

note : 4/5

No one boasts as many ideas as the avant-garde darling. But why are they so hard to whistle, asks Craig McLean

The last time she was here, with 2004’s Medulla, Bjork treated listeners to a smorgasbord of avant-garde vocal ideas and no instruments. It was a clever bit of techno-ethnography, but little else. « A trip to the shops with my iPod - gosh, what I really want to hear is some Inuit throat music. »
This sixth album finds her, at least notionally, offering something for those who like Fun Bjork (the ear-popping sprite who, over a decade ago, was Violently Happy) and those who appreciate dress-eating Art Bjork.

So Timbaland, taking time off from reinventing pop music, contributes to three tunes. None will have Nelly Furtado complaining that the uber-producer short-changed her. But the car-assembly-line beats and synth squelches of Innocence suggest that Sugarcubes featuring Justin Timberlake would have been the best group ever. Earth Intruders is pretty good, too, its martial robo-stomp lent much-needed soul by experimental Congolese band Konono N° 1 (no, me neither). But the third Timbaland tune, Hope, sounds like an explosion at the BBC World Music Awards - an unfortunate image, given the awkward lyrics : « What’s the lesser of two evils ? / If a suicide bomber made to look pregnant manages to kill her target or not. »

Best not to listen too closely to the words. As ever with Bjork, they’re more about feeling than meaning. « I am leaving this harbour, giving urban a farewell / Its inhabitants seem too keen on God », she coos on the beautiful Wanderlust, its beats working well with trumpets, despite the latter being credited to a « Facilitator of Conceptual Brass Ideas ».

Which brings us to Antony ’and the Johnsons’ Hegarty, aka « Supplier of Pissed-Up Pub Singer Theatricality » - his pseudo-castrato flights on the operatic Dull Flame of Desire and the minimal lament My Juvenile suggest that Vic Reeves has wandered into the studio.

That’s the trouble with Volta. Listen intently, repeatedly, and you’ll hear much to widen your consciousness : the next time someone offers me a Chinese pipa, I’ll know to admire its fluttering stringed majesty rather than eat it. But listen for, you know, enjoyment and you’ll be left wanting. Bjork shouting through the lumpen Declare Independence (« don’t let them do that to you ») is like watching Teletubbies with a headache. The mournful brass of the elegant Pneumonia is an example of how great things might have been. Couldn’t we have more - and better - tunes as well as the restless, boundary-pushing innovation ?

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Craig McLean

publié dans The Observer - 22.04.2007

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