Bjork’s back-to-back-to-back classics of the 1990s, Debut
, established her as one of the one of the most innovative voices in rock. Always the trailblazer, Bjork has largely decided to pursue her own muse in this decade. The result is an output that has been categorized by may fans as “Debut
“The rest” includes the beautiful, delicate 2001 album Vespertine, the 2004 all-vocal Medulla and the “avant-garde even for Bjork” 2005 release Drawing Restraint 9. While in a live setting, many of the songs on these albums rival the power of her first three albums, listening to these albums can be a frustrating experience for those who crave the heavy beats and song-oriented nature of the earlier work.
Early buzz on Bjork’s latest album, Volta, seemed to hint that she was returning to the poppy structures that made her earlier works so beloved. Enlisting the help of Timbaland for a few tracks even gave a slight tinge of hope that the album would actually be a flirtation with mainstream radio. Indeed, “Earth Intruders,” one of the Timbaland-produced tracks, though messy, had an infectious, tribal beat that ushered in Bjork’s long-hidden wails -- a great introduction of things to come.
Of course, coming from a fan, you greet these moments with trepidation. You relish the moment when an artist you love does a “return to form” album. However, that euphoria quickly wears off as it sounds like an artist is retreading their tracks instead of continuing to stake out new territory -- the very thing that made you fall in love with the artist in the first place. The last thing you would want an artist like Bjork to do is make Post II.
Fans looking for a “return to form” album with Volta need only to hit “Wanderlust” to notice that Bjork isn’t making any efforts to reclaim the sound of her past glories. In addition to electronica elements, Volta features a choir, brass instrumentation and the inclusion of Anthony Hegarty for supporting vocals. While Hegarty’s vocals are fine on their own, they are a total mismatch when paired with Bjork.
Her experimentation has more misses than hits on Volta, especially in the song “Hope.” With a rather lazy, middling song structure, the listener is drawn in to Bjork’s lyrics regarding a suicide bomber. The lyrics are set up to have no clear-cut answers to the character’s motives, but the lyrics are so clumsy, they come off as almost comedic. “What’s the lesser of two evils: If the bomb was fake / Or if it was real?” Uh…the former.
Even the most politically-charged, musically enjoyable song on the album, “Declare Independence” suffers from shoddy lyrics. Despite having a propulsive beat, Bjork’s fierce declarations: “Start your own currency! / Make your own stamp / Protect your language” sound more like revolutionary stuff you would hear at a college party filled with freshmen English majors smoking bad pot. It also doesn’t help that current critic darling M.I.A. is releasing tracks with more revolutionary vigor with beats that are twice as accessible and fun than what’s on Volta.
Like all Bjork albums, Volta needs a few listens to truly absorb. After a second listen, I liked the album more than my first listen. And there is something to be said about an artist who continuously prides herself on not revealing all of her surprises on the first listen. But an album has to offer reasons for a listener to return.
Sadly, there are far too few moments here where this happens. Like Medulla
is an album not to love, but to admire. From a distance.
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