BjOrk is done with being polite. The Icelandic pop goddess is braver, angrier and happier than ever before — and she wants to shout about it. Fiona Shepherd and Chris Todd let her.
t‘s been two years since Bjork released her
Debut and made thejump from cultish topsy-
turvy indie yodeller to international style
icon and essential namedrop in clubs. concert halls and cocktail parties.
How far has she seeped into popular consciousness‘.’ Only so far that some people believe everyone in her native Iceland must share her Eskimo looks (they don’t). Only so far that even now adolescent girls and women old enough to know better can still be seen emulating her floaty petticoat over fluffy jumper look. Only so far that comedian Rob Newman derived an adjective. bjorkest. from her name and used it in his recent novel (to describe a woollen sweater as it happens). If Collins deem her fit for inclusion in the next edition of their dictionary her entry should read something like ‘elfm. pixie princess. lungs like bellows. larynx like a lark. pure dead cute’.
Liz Hurley and Drew Barrymore might be the faces of the short term. saturating mainstream magazine covers. but Bjork now hovers not far left of centre with more than an astute stylist to thank for her celebrity. Her singular. versatile voice remains her most stunning asset. still as unsullied and full of wonder as the day the world outside lceland first heard it. on The Sugarcubes‘ curious gem ‘Birthday’. She‘s a worldly-wise jet-setter. yet magnificently bereft of cynicism (the curse of the 90s), with a sponge-like capacity for absorbing eclectic influences (that salvation of the 90s) and delivering her version of events with the breathless enthusiasm of an ingenue.
On her new album Post she imparts the glorious ebb and flow of falling in and out of love on her cover of Betty Hutton’s post-war big band stormer ‘lt’s Oh So Quiet’. She tells us she’s ‘going to prove the impossible really exists‘ on the crystalline ‘Cover Me’. She offers her fairytale theories on mundane things and big issues. She personifies emotions — on her next single ‘lsobel’ the eponymous character represents intuition the way that Mars represents war and Bacchus represents hedonism. She does all this from an immutable will to explore musically and lyrically. She does all this with a self-effacing shrug of her shoulders.
‘I think I’m just average.’ she says. ‘I know a girl in Iceland who is a food scientist and she worksjust as hard as me. and I don’t get the plot. Why does everybody wanna take my photograph and put me on front of a magazine but not her. just because I work with a microphone and she works with a microscope? What’s the difference?
‘In a way. fame has got nothing to do with what I do. I look at myself more like a scientist. As a kid. I always hung out with the boys with the big thick glasses and the insect collections. I wanna work with people. I’m obsessed with communicating the people. I could very easily go home and write an album in two days but. for me. the real challenge is to meet up with people
‘If everything goes wrong one day and I’m unhappy, I put the right song on and it sorts me completely out, and that’s what music should be like. Fuck psychiatrists, they don’t do nothing for people, but I think pop music saves lives every day.’
and get the magic going. One plus one is three. I want to prove that the formula is wrong, that one plus one isn't two. and I find that kinda magical.’
Bjork has already said enough to refute her own statement that she is average. However, her remarks don’t stem from false modesty but from a mischievous mockery of the fame and acclaim game. Next time you see her depicted sniggering like a schoolgirl behind her hands (a common Bjork pose). you’ll know what she’s laughing about
‘l’ve been doing music in Iceland since I was eleven.’ she says. ‘and so many times I’ve been hailed as something brilliant. and one year later everybody hates me, then one year later everybody thinks I’m brilliant. One year later everybody hates me again. so I gotta stick to what I do and try to do the best l can.’
In the context of a career spanning eighteen years and encompassing popular covers, trad jazz. and kooky alternative pop, it seems a bit pedantic to be looking for massive leaps
between the sound of Debut and the sound of Post. This time round Bjork has worked with current hot ticket Tricky. whose background in mellow rap complements her progressive dance side and with 808 State’s Graham Massey who was taking dynamic dance tracks to a pop audience well before Bjork acquired an umbrella appeal. If you were hooked on Debut’s idiosyncratic mix of swelling strings, club credentials and the ‘grower’ potential of the songs, then you can expect a similar casserole of material on Post. Bjijrk has her own metaphors for her two solo works.
‘Debut was a very shy album, it was very polite, the same way you behave when you go to a friend’s house for the very first time. You go in smiling, it doesn’t mean you’re fake or anything, but you wouldn’t trust these people with your inner emotions until you know them a little bit more. It’s just human. So when I did Post. in a lot of ways I actually think it is happier and braver. in the sense that I knew more what I was doing. so I had the guts to say the happy songs are happier. the angry songs are angrier, the delicate songs are more delicate, and it’s just more of everything.
‘I very much look at Debut and Post as twins, before and after. When I did Debut. I knew I didn’t have the musical ability to do it. but I did my best. I don’t think Debut is that great, but here I’ve done Post after I’ve learned all the lessons from Debut, and done it really well. It’s also a question of after I moved to England two years ago, all the things I seemed to write, I seemed to write them directly to Iceland, so it’s like a letter home, how I’ve been doing, what’s been happening. So that’s why I called it Post.’
She sends these postcards home written in English. but half the time you don’t know what language she’s using in her songs, such is. the oddity of the stories she tells and symbols she dreams up. The imagery of ‘Army Of Me’ is clear enough — you can get a bold picture of a platoon of Bjorks advancing on her tedious companion at the last straw, enforced by the striking video in which she lumbers forward in her monster truck.
However, a modern folk tale like ‘Hyper- Ballad’ (a song Bj6rk has re-recorded with The Brodsky Quartet for possible inclusion on a ‘remix’ album) is one that could have the aesthetes arguing for months over its meaning. Fortunately, Bjork is not one of those coy ‘my songs are open to interpretation’ types and happily expounds on the lyric.
The List 30 Jun-l3 Jul I995 7