The Tech

Reinspiring Awe and Devotion

Björk : Greatest Hits + Family Tree

Björk, Iceland’s most popular export, is a master of seamlessly combining “serious” art with a catchy pop
sensibility. Or perhaps she combines catchy pop music with a more “serious” sensibility. Either way,
Björk continues to successfully straddle the all too often disjunct worlds of pop and high art, and to
please fans and critics alike in her latest project, a collection of greatest hits. Never one to do the expected,
Björk’s greatest hits take the form of two releases : a single disc (with the characteristically simple
appellation Greatest Hits), and a 6 CD boxed set (comprised of 1 LP and 5 3-inch EPs) which can only be
described as “lavish,” entitled Family Tree.

Accompanying the two releases is an attractive and elaborate section on http://bjork.com, with a page
devoted to each song on the Greatest Hits CD, including quotes and interviews with Björk and others about
the songs, stills from the videos, a discography of the EPs released for the song, and miscellaneous extras,
such as concept drawings for the memorable “All Is Full of Love” music video and the story from the
“Bachelorette” video.

“Greatest Hits,” obviously the more marketable of the two releases, is geared towards newcomers, although
the tracklisting was based on a vote by fans at bjork.com. Culled from the songs officially released as
“singles,” the 15 tracks will immediately captivate newbies, although the songs will hold few surprises
for fans, as most of the tracks have long received the attention they are due. Included are songs from
Björk’s three first releases, among them “Hyperballad,” “Jóga,” “Isobel,” “Bachelorette,” and “Big Time
Sensuality,” (the latter presented here in the video remix version, as is the gorgeous “All Is Full of Love,”)
in addition to “Pagan Poetry” and “Hidden Place” from Vespertine, Björk’s most recent release. It is slightly
surprising that the purposefully detached “Army of Me,” the dreamy “Possibly Maybe,” and the compelling
but lesser-known “Play Dead” edged out such upbeat and poppy tunes as “Violently Happy,” “I Miss
You,” and the almost saccharine international hit “It’s Oh So Quiet.” Obviously, Björk’s fans fully appreciate
both the poppy and the artsy sides of their idol.

Greatest Hits as a whole affords two distinct pleasures. First, a fantastic new track, “It’s In Our Hands,”
which Björk has performed at the close of her shows during the last tour and which will soon make its
appearance as a set of singles, but is released here for the first time. (Some fans may bristle at the fact that
the song is only available on Greatest Hits and not on Family Tree, but the possible reasons have been left to
speculation.)

Greatest Hits also allows long-time fans to re-examine a unique artist’s output over a span of almost 10
years, and the awe that it reinspires is tremendous. In addition to possessing one of the most distinctive
and unforgettable voices of the century, she does what few other artists do : combine such truly poetic
lyrics with such highly crafted music, whose range includes playful jingles as in “Venus As A Boy,” lush
ballads like “Jóga,” almost avant-garde sounds, as in “Pagan Poetry,” and many tracks, like “Hunter” and
“Isobel,” which skip blithely away from any obvious categories.

Family Tree is geared towards devoted fans, although in reality less than half of the music will be really
new to the thoroughly rabid Björk disciple. The familiar items include a full-length Greatest Hits CD compiled
by Björk herself and a booklet featuring 16 lyrics that Björk found representative of her oeuvre. The CD
includes seven of the same songs featured on the fan-based release, and in general the disc leans towards
slower, more atmospheric songs such as “You’ve Been Flirting Again” and “I’ve Seen It All” from Björk’s
Cannes Award-winning role in Dancer in the Dark.

Among the semi-familiar tracks are some readily available b-sides, including “Síðasta Ég,” a serene Debut
b-side ; a few tracks from Björk’s years with the Sugarcubes, the wonderfully manic Icelandic pop group
Björk sang in before going solo ; and alternate versions of songs, including two EPs worth of the 1995
collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet (the pair had previously presented a colorful arrangement of
“Hyperballad” on the remix CD Telegram and they gave two concerts in December 1999). The latter is the
saving grace of the set for die-hard fans, as the tracks have not previously been available, and, with the
exception of a glaringly trite quote from Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue,” the arrangements are generally
proficient ; the Brodsky Quartet successfully retains the essence of the songs while providing a slightly
different viewpoint.

Outside of the alternate versions of the songs, an obscure track from Björk’s much lesser-known second
band Kukl, and some elaborate packaging, truly die-hard fans will already be familiar with the rest of the
set. This includes some obscure b-sides, all worth owning, including the joyfully catchy “I Go Humble.”
The packaging itself might justify the set for some, however ; the elaborately designed set comes in a
plastic pink box in a white paper sleeve and the CD sleeves and booklets include 28 pictures of nicely
complementary works by fellow Icelandic native, Gabríela Friðriksdóttir, a sculptor.

Some may wonder why no songs from Björk’s other projects, including Tappi Tíkarrass (Björk’s first band)
or any of the many successful remixes which have been so central to Björk’s output, appear in the set.
Although the set generally takes itself a little too seriously, for the most part avoiding the spontaneous
fun and humour of Björk’s stage presence, the care taken in its design and its contents will be sure to
reinspire devotion in fans, although newcomers should pick up the single disc first.

Fred Choi

publié dans The Tech - 05.11.2002

 

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