Björk – Debut: Round 73 – Nick’s choice

BjorkDebutAs usual I had a handful of choices for Tom’s simple “your favourite album by an artist that isn’t considered to be the critical or fans’ consensus ‘best’” theme, but Björk’s was the first I thought of and, frankly, the one I wanted to play the most.

My assumption was that over the last 15 years or so, Post and, especially, Homogenic, had come to be regarded as Björk’s best records by pretty much everyone, but 21 years on from its release, and about 19 on from me first hearing it in full, Debut still remains my favourite front-to-back record by Iceland’s favourite daughter. Luckily, when it came to trial by RateYourMusic, Debut was indeed not her top-rated record, coming below those two and also Vespertine. Vindication!

Of course Debut wasn’t Björk’s debut album at all; as well as the small matter of her having fronted The Sugarcubes (a band who seem to get mentioned an inordinate amount at DRC, mainly by Tom), there was her eponymous ‘real’ debut album as a 12-year-old, which I suspect very few people outside of Iceland have ever heard. (And probably not many will have heard of.) (There’s also Gling-Gló, a 1990 album where Björk fronted a jazz trio. Never heard it, but intrigued…)

The sound of freedom after the collapse of The Sugarcubes, Debut was sort-of a record of Björk’s move to London and immersion in UK club music, taking in trip hop, house, dance-pop, and much more. It’s a vivacious, joyful album, which covers a lot of ground both musically and emotionally, but most importantly to me it’s also Björk’s must unabashedly ‘pop’ record; as odd as “Human Behaviour” might be, for instance, it’s also outrageously catchy, and when you add in “Big Time Sensuality”, “Venus As A Boy”, and the fabulous “There’s More To Life Than This (Recorded Live At The Milk Bar Toilets)”, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is not just Björk’s most accessible record, but one of the very best albums to come out of the mid-90s. I still love pretty much every second.

Rob listened: I was a big Sugarcubes fan and bought ‘Human Behaviour’, the single, and ‘Debut’, on their respective days of release. The single, a strange and snuffling, otherworldly beast, was enchanting, but seemed somehow a logical progression. The album felt very different, a deliberate and unmistakeable break with the past. It’s easy to forget what a bold step ‘Debut’ was. For Björk (out into the spotlight on her own without her band, and into new territory – easy to forget because she’s been taking radical steps ever since with almost every record) but also for the music of the time. Moving this decisively into club culture seemed almost jarring, although the record is anything but. However, like everything else she’s done, ‘Debut’ is wholehearted, sincere and completely convincing. Hearing it again I was surprised to note just how well it has stood the test of time, despite being so closely bound to the sounds of the 90s dancefloor. Perhaps not a true debut, but this is certainly the true arrival of one of the most distinctive and transfixing solo artists of our age.

Tom listened: When Nick played us Post, years ago now it seems, I just couldn’t get on with it. It felt too much of its time for my tastes and I could all too easily imagine it being rolled out during a dinner party scene in This Life or Thirtysomething. No fault of the record itself of course but, for me, the hurdle felt insurmountable and I knew that Post was one Bjork record I could strike off the list.

In contrast I thought Debut was spellbinding, much preferring it to its successor. Debut sounded fantastically assured, which I found surprising given the relatively short shrift that the latter two Sugarcubes albums received from the music press at the time of their release. Debut sounded to me like a record that had been made by someone who either felt they had nothing to lose or that they just couldn’t lose. Bjork didn’t really fit into either of these categories however – she had tasted considerable success with the Sugarcubes at the start of their recording career and must have had a distinctly sinking feeling as the music press turned on them with subsequent releases.

Yet, despite this, Debut sounds so confident. In fact it sounds just like the album to launch a uniquely successful solo career, one that says to the listener, ‘forget my previous missteps give me a fair listen, trust me and I’ll pay you back in spades over the course of the next 20 years (at least)’. Perhaps its ironic, therefore, that Post didn’t have the same effect on me but, whilst I may not love all the music that I have heard of Bjork’s over the years, it’s always interesting at the very least and, in the case of Debut, it sounded downright vital!

Björk – Post: Round 28 – Nick’s choice

Post is another one of the CDs I’ve stacked up as potential record club choices over the last few months; sans theme, and with the gut feeling that we’d pretty grossly underrepresented music by women at our meetings, it jumped to the top of the pile.

(Tom did a quick tally by looking through our blog analytics last night and concluded that he’d brought seven records by women, Graham had brought four, I’d brought three [including Post], and Rob had brought only one [Melt Banana!]; 14 is a pretty poor showing considering we’ve played getting on for a hundred records at DRC now.)

I bought Post in late 1995 from Woolworths in Dawlish, after being wowed by It’s Oh So Quiet (both the song and the extraordinary Spike Jones video). At the time it was the first album I’d bought by a female solo artist; the first, in fact, not by a band of boys with guitars – Screamadelica was the only record already in my possession that did anything other than play straight rock songs, pretty much. I was mocked for buying Post by some friends, for stepping outside the horizons limited by the Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Roses, and Pearl Jam that seemed to make up their tastes.

I’m glad I did though, because Björk was a pretty powerful gateway drug into other musical worlds; I remember reading an interview with her at around this time where she compared guitar music to potatoes, and said she preferred to consume a varied musical diet than just eat mash and chips all the time. This seemed exotic and enticing to me at 16; at 33, it just seems like common sense. (After all, who wants to eat the same lunch every day?)

Apparently, Post is (lyrically) about moving to London from Iceland, and the combination of excitement and apprehension that this inspired in Björk. Musically, it’s about… everything, almost, from the irresistible, semi-industrial groove of opener Army Of Me (written to admonish her younger brother, supposedly), the beatific techno-love-song of Hyper-Ballad, the big band theatricality of It’s Oh So Quiet, the luscious, modern fairy-tale of Isobel, the grinding trip-hop of Enjoy; there are so many textures, ideas, approaches, and emotions to take in. I feel like I’m still getting to know it all these years later.

I have a strange relationship with Björk; I respect her immensely, and love a whole great big chunk of her music (especially Debut, Post and Homogenic) but she’s not someone I listen to all that regularly – I never turn to her music as default listening for some reason, and, looking on my iPhone, there aren’t many songs by her in my most-used playlists. So I’m resolving to use the choice of Post at DRC as a catalyst to spend some more time with her music over the next few weeks. Who’s going to recommend my good b-sides?

Rob listened: I think ‘Post’ is one of the best records ever made. I don’t think there’s anything more I can usefully say. Perhaps I could add that i’d like to be locked in a box with the high-end sounds from Hyperballad for about 30 years, but you probably wouldn’t understand. Nick: Thanks a million for bringing this. I have quite a few b-sides and remixes from the Debut/Post era. I’ll try to dig them out if you’re interested.

Tom Listened: I really admire Bjork. She’s a true visionary, a singular artist, one who is undoubtedly making the music she feels with scant regard to her record buying public – like all the best recording artists over the years. And I admire her music too – she is incredibly creative, original, technically skillful and imaginative. The trouble is I just don’t connect with it – there is no emotional hook for me and I can find her voice hard to take in large doses.

I was really interested to hear Post. It was always the Bjork album I most wanted to check out. I’m glad I’ve now heard it in full and it was, in many ways, a remarkable listen. But, for me, it lacked memorable melodies and a rawness that I am often drawn to in music (and which I found in abundance on The Sugarcubes’ debut Life’s Too Good). So I guess I will continue to admire Bjork from afar rather than up close for the time being.

Graham listened: Strangely I had completely forgotten that I already owned this album. As soon as it started I was instantly reminded why I bought it, and how good it really was. It has so much depth and variation and is simply brilliant. Thanks to DRC, its back in the CD player in the car!