Vespertine

Bjork

Elektra Records, 2001

http://bjork.com

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/16/2003

Well, Bjork found her vagina.

That's probably the best way to sum up Vespertine, Bjork's hyper-intimate 2001 release. Too graphic of an intro? It's difficult not to come away with that impression listening to the track "Cocoon": "He slides inside/Half awake half asleep/We faint back into sleephood/When I wake up the second time in his arms/Gorgeousness/he's still inside me!!!" Bjork has never made straightforward songs, and for all I know, she could have meant for the song just to be about cuddling with your mate. But damn, that's some vivid imagery.

Imagery of bubbling kettles, percolating coffee and stretching tundra (you can't take the Iceland out of Bjork, no matter where she decides to live) dominate Vespertine. In interviews, she said she intended to make an album that celebrated the joys of domesticity. I guess it didn't hurt that she fell head-over-heels in love during the making of this album.

It would seem like a logical step; each album Bjork has made up to Vespertine has been a near-landmark recording. With nbtc__dv_250 Debut, Bjork bid farewell to former bandmates the Sugarcubes and enveloped the world of electronica and techno with a much-needed weight of humanity. With Post, she turned around and threw down her own five-star masterpiece. The album was so good, a critic couldn't even call it "her Blood on the Tracks" or "her Nevermind." The album had no peer or precedent; it was a true groundbreaker. And with Homogenic, Bjork turned her scorned rage into a pulsating follow-up. Although not quite as good as its predecessors, it certainly didn't embarrass itself and proved to be a great follow-up album.

With Vespertine, Bjork listeners braced themselves to be bowled over once again. To get their ass kicked. To be mesmerized. But instead, Bjork often retreats into a whisper. Her voice is so delicate on Vespertine, you half expect it drift away and disappear. I kept revisiting the album, almost pleading it to grow on me, but it never fully sank its talons in.

Bjork's contentment in her personal life results in her most stable album, and frequently her least interesting. One of Bjork's greatest assets is her other-worldly voice. Her primal growls lit up songs like "Enjoy" and made such general lyrics like "I'm so bored with cowards," sound like a stunning testimony. It also helped that she surrounded herself with great collaborators. Tricky, Goldie and Wu-Tang's RZA are among the people who have contributed their skills to some of Bjork's tracks.

Bjork sings about going to "a hidden place" on the first track. And the first thing she chose to hide was her voice. Now, devoid of beats and voice, the songs have to rely on her lyrical power -- and on Vespertine, it's not enough to carry the album. It's like a Tori Amos album with her voice buried in computer blips and white noise. It's like a Tool album without the drums. I'm not saying Bjork should stick to a certain formula, but in this case, it didn't completely work.

Still, Vespertine is a love/hate album. Many fans either consider this her best album, or her worst. Few have ranked it in the middle. There have been a few times that I have seriously enjoyed the album. However, most music needs the ability for a person to identify with the artist to be effective. And just when I think this album has grown on me, I'll put Debut or Homogenic back on again, and both albums will blow me away again. Besides, I don't think I can ever achieve the sort of emotional bliss that Bjork saturates Vespertine with. She has found happiness. Let's hope she finds her voice on her next album.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 2003 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Elektra Records, and is used for informational purposes only.