Time (Canada)

A voice out of Reykjavík

Icelandic singer Björk crosses musical and geographical boundaries with her
exhilarating new album, Post.

“OH GOOD, WE’RE ESCAPING,” cries Björk, grabbing a bag of hot microwaved popcorn and heading out the door of the windowless corporate meeting room. The Icelandic singer-songwriter (her name is pronounced Bee-yerk) has been cooped up in the Beverly Hills, California, offices of her record company most of the day. Björk likes her freedom. One hearing of her new album, Post, provides admirable demonstration of that : it’s a twirling, uninhibited mix of songs—for example, the delightfully raving orchestral number It’s Oh So Quiet or the pulsating clubland dance songs like Enjoy and the moody ballads like Possibly Maybe. This woman was not made for offices. She needs space, she needs hot microwaved popcorn, and she needs outta here.

She is happier half an hour later, as she glides into the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel. She says she’s never been to a place so “posh” before, and the palpable glamour of the room, buzzing with dealmakers, seems to amuse her. A pianist is playing Gershwin songs as Björk takes a seat at a table and divulges her secret way of getting quicker service at snobby restaurants. Recently, when she was eating out, Björk explains, “I had an apple in my bag, and so I picked it up and started eating it. There was a waiter there like this !”—she snaps her fingers. “So if you bring your own sandwich and you start eating it, they’ll come quickly.”

Björk is fizzing with gently off-center stories and observations. At one point she says she believes in fairies. At another she says her green wrinkly dress, which is fastened at the shoulder with a safety pin, is made of something called “Belgian envelope paper.” She is a delightfully luminous presence. Maybe it’s her accent. Her voice has a musical lilt, and her statements often end with an upward lift, as if she were asking a question. Then again, maybe her otherworldliness has something to do with Iceland. Her exhusband is named Thor (her current boyfriend, a British songwriter and performer, is named Tricky). She says Icelanders, partly because they live in a spacious, underpopulated country, are more attuned to nature and spirituality. She also admits, however, that “Icelandic people think I’m strange.”

Björk—her last name is Guðmundsdóttir, but she rarely uses it—was born in Reykjavík in 1965. Her mother is a student of homeopathy and a teacher of the Japanese martial art aikido ; her father is the head of Iceland’s electricians’ union. Björk began making records in the ’70s, before she entered her teens. In the late ‘8Os she began to get international attention as the lead singer for the arty Icelandic rock band the Sugarcubes (Thor was the guitarist). In 1993 she left the band and released her first major-label solo album, Debut, a somewhat haphazard collection of experimental pop songs. It sold about 3 million copies worldwide.

Her new release is more striking and mature. Björk has a throaty soprano capable of jagged growls and golden, pure vocal thrusts. Over the years she has gained more control of her voice and is now more able to style her songs to convey specific ideas and emotions rather than just giddiness and vocal virtuosity. In The Modern Things she sings the word irritating in a way that is amusingly abrasive to the ear, drawing the note out scratchily. She shows restraint on the balmy, restful Headphones, her voice barely above a whisper for much of the song. In one line of Hyperballad, she sings with a seemingly perverse sort of joy of the liberating nature of suicidal fantasies : “Imagine what my body would sound like/slamming against those rocks.”

Everyone has odd thoughts now and again, but Björk’s are odder than most. Will I die with my eyes closed or open ? What if “baby” skyscrapers grew up like people ? Björk takes such things—ideas that ordinary brains and functioning industrial societies tend to filter out—and turns them into song. “Who knows what’s going to happen ?” she sings in Possibly Maybe. “Lottery or car crash/ Or you’ll join a cult.”

To Björk, these thoughts are merely the normal by-products of an active mind. Now 29, she lives in London, has a nine-year-old son by Thor named Sindri and considers herself a well-adjusted person. “My best friends think of me as very down to earth, practical, very hardworking,” she says. “If something needs to get done, I’m organizing it—get the flat or organize a party, whatever it is. I’m a single mother. I’m a workaholic. [But] people look at me as being more ethereal and mystical.”

After she finishes her tea, Björk gets up from the table and purrs down a staircase toward the exit. She’s humming Gershwin’s Someone to Watch Over Me. An interesting selection. Björk may appear to be wispy and vulnerable, but anyone who has the determination to leave her band, her country and a spouse named Thor and succeed in becoming a self-made international pop star hardly needs a guardian.

Christopher John Farley

publié dans Time (Canada) - 11.09.1995

 

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