The next in our series looking at significant albums celebrating their 20th anniversaries in 2017 reaches Björk's landmark third album
Last Friday, Björk gave a live online video interview to discuss her forthcoming album. For fifty minutes, she sat in a badly lit hotel suite and talked with unflinching sincerity about collaborating with cutting-edge film directors, confrontational music producers and high-concept fashion designers, all of which would resemble fairly ordinary promo fare had her face not also been obscured throughout by a giant lily perched on the end of her nose.
Tellingly, the headgear was barely mentioned, the implication being that this style of presentation, eccentric though it may be, is simply par for Björk in 2017, as unremarkable as, say, a rapper in a baseball cap. That seems about right, too: no longer just an offbeat pop star, Björk is these days a sort of experimental multimedia node programmed to provoke, whose musical output runs parallel to virtual reality experiences, interactive apps and retrospectives at the New York Museum of Modern Art. For modernday Björk, the idea of turning up to an interview with a flower over your face is, if not exactly expected, then at least typical.
Things were different in 1996, though. Björk was at the apex of her musical popularity following the triumph of big-band jazz confection ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ and the ensuing masterful genre patchwork splatter of her second album ‘Post’. However, the attention both from gossip columns and from one tragically ardent fan had become so discomforting that change was urgently required. Her subsequent transition over two decades, from quirky pop pixie patronised by the tabloids as a novelty weirdo to serious tastemaker sporting entirely standard facial foliage in public, is unique. It’s one that has shaped both Björk herself and the work of her peers, and it’s also one that, publicly at least, began twenty years ago today with the release of ‘Homogenic’.
There can’t be many albums more resolutely alien as ‘Homogenic’ that still manage to squarely occupy familiar pop territory. Equally, it’s difficult to recall another record that’s so clearly chiselled from a single piece of stone but which simultaneously feels so modular. But such are the gleeful contradictions of ‘Homogenic’: its cold electronica retains a melancholy warmth, and there’s a sort of warping density to it even at its crystalline sparsest, like staring through metres of flawlessly transparent reinforced glass. All of that seems satisfyingly deliberate, too: Björk’s reported desire was that ‘Homogenic’’s front cover depict “a warrior who fights not with weapons but with love” – the sense here is of someone rather revelling in all their assembled incongruity.
Despite that, though, perhaps the album’s most enduring virtue is its almost symphonic focus. Gone is the playful genre-hopping of ‘Post’ and ‘Debut’, instead replaced by a steely single vision in bellicose rhythm and sweeping string arrangement, the kind of music with which Björk could send her warrior cover stars off on their crusade. “I’m going hunting!” declares the album’s opener, it’s accompanying video portraying Björk being overcome by increasingly complex digital armour, in a neat allegory for the album’s tone; at the album’s other end, ‘Pluto’ finds Björk at her most aggressively euphoric, before the closing ‘All Is Full Of Love’, hypnotically depthless and almost ritualistic, summarises her manifesto.