Getting even further left field we arrive in Iceland. Björk was a name I sorta knew being around- oh by the way, it is pronounced yerk like work not york like pork. Anyway, I never took her music in at all. She just escaped my orbit entirely. It was only in the past few years when she came through on tour that I decided to test the waters. You can read that concert review here. Musically, that show was nothing like Debut coming nearly thirty years after it.
The first thing to notice here is this album is designed to make you dance! You feel it in the tone of the songs and the way she sings. It is all joy. And being a joyous dance record it comes with that pulse and throb both in the production and the lyrics. Even on a song titled, “Crying” it is joy. The joy of wanting to be with somebody your are away from.
Crying ’cause I need you
Crying I can feel you
Crying ’cause I need you
Crying ’cause I care
“Venus As A Boy”, is a perfect trip-hop era mood. Like fuschias casually swaying with the breeze. It is light and lovely. With the opening lines
His wicked sense of humor
Suggests exciting sex
Where Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We sat in the swamp of a relationship of confusion and anxiety this record is in love and has no shame professing it. It wants you to feel as lifted as the singer does. We have lyrics like
But then we’d have to rush back
To the town’s best baker
To get the first bread of the morning
There’s more to life than this
that reaffirm the joy. And it is this specificity that elevates the music and the singing beyond the average generic love song lyrics. It is the kind of specifics I was expecting from Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We.
Mid record Björk breaks out the song, “Like Someone In Love”, an American pop standard from the 40s.
Originally a hit for Bing Crosby. It is just voice and harp and damn it. It just works. The whole thing. Even with Björk’s specific vocal tone. Björk grew up with jazz thanks to her father but even so to plop it on an electronic dance record with just harp was ovariesy (as opposed to ballsy) for 1993.
And once that love song ends we head full force into house music with one of the most ecstatic dance tracks of all time 90s or otherwise, “Big Time Sensuality”. Like, “Groove Is In The Heart” by Dee-lite another 90s dance anthem it gets all the cells moving and a smile on the face. It is so confident and assured and high on love.
But it is with songs like, “One Day” and “Aeroplane” that hint at the avant-garde Björk yet to come. They are more experimental in both production and themes. Where the albums become concept records and time stamps on a period of her life.
When listening to Debut you can understand why so many Björk fans long and ache for the return of the club happy sprite they used to know. It is such uplift and joy all while being accessible and honest. And such a stark contrast to later albums like Medulla or Vulnicura or her recent release Fossora that seem to offer very few entry points for the casual music fan. The critics seem to laud and love her later works no matter what and one does wonder if she herself has bought the narrative and is just quirky to be quirky at this point. Though watching her more recent video for, “Ancesstress” about her mother’s passing definitely casts doubt on that assumption.
But listening to this debut, which sheds and any dead skin leftover from her Sugarcubes days it is clear it was only a matter of time before club music would not be able to say what she needed to say in the way she wanted.
With so much of today’s music geared to being tik-tok ready. It is kind of revelatory to listen to an album that is so ecstatic through and through and danceable and yet goes somewhere, there is a journey even within all the joy. It marches out with, “Human Behavior” and then sends us spinning near the end with “Violently Happy”. That song title alone encapsulates, all that is held in these 11 tracks. And could’ve been the ending for the album, a bliss rave high.
But, “The Anchor Song” ends it all with an ode to the ocean and presumably Iceland in general. Only voice and saxophones, once again foreshadowing her work from Vespertine on. She was most certainly headed down this path no matter what but I am glad she did make a stop in 1993 to light up the dance club floor with her mystical fairy powers and help us all work it out and feel what it’s like to be young and in the throngs of love.
All of them are tasty IMO
This is part of a 5 part series exploring my connection to music of my youth, specifically three albums from 1993. So click and album and let’s get to it.