Homogenic is some really sick shit, I tell ya. By sick, I mean this music sounds like it's dying, but in a beautiful way, like if the image of rapidly generating cancerous cells could be magnified to create an awesome psychedelic light show.
No, this isn't a euphoric but cynical party album that will set the dance floors ablaze much like Debut did four years ago. Nor does it contain the eclecticism of Post, with its day-glo splashes, subtle hues and drab earth tones mixing in one schizophrenic package. If you are looking for a reference point, Homogenic is similar to her darker and more challenging Telegram remix album that came out last year.
If this is a "commercial" or "pop" album, I don't know what the hell those terms represent anymore unless you redefine them to mean dissonant yet melodic, complex and minimalist and staccato while still maintaining rhythm. The album gets off to a menacing start with "Hunter," whose instrumentation and overall tone define Homogenic. The lyrics aren't necessarily scary or foreboding ("thought I could organize freedom, how Scandinavian of me"), but the pulsing drum machine snares and the dramatic string arrangement courtesy of Deodato evoke a feeling of dread.
"Hunter" also serves as a preliminary warning that this ain't no dance record, nor is it a chill out record. In fact, I have no convenient labels that address the music's function, unless you want to call it "dishwashing in hell music." If "Joga" (the album's first single) is a sure-shot hit record, then I have a great two-part 12" disco single called Metal Machine Music I want to sell you. Nevertheless, in today's confused and contradictory pop- music marketplace nothing surprises me anymore. If you had told me 10 years ago that Steve Albini would produce Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones would make a record with Diamanda Galas, I would have laughed you out of the universe.
Now, I'd probably barely bat an eye if I heard that John Bonham, Keith Moon and Dennis Wilson were resurrected so they could put out a new age percussion album with Pete Best, as well as members of ABBA and Napalm Death.
There is a lot of ugliness and beauty in the world that Bjork wants to capture and bottle in her odd little ditties. "Bachelorette," for instance, is a quirky love song with a pretty string-laden melody and lyrics that only Bjork could write and sing with genuine urgency. It begins with the lines, "I'm a fountain of blood in the shape of a girl. You're a bird on the brim hypnotized by the whirl. Drink me, make me real, wet your beak in the stream. The game we're playing is life; love is a two-way dream."
Love is a constant theme that flows throughout the album, and the song "5 Years" is no exception. Over a rhythmic pulse that sounds like a Geiger counter gettin' off to the sounds of Nena's "99 Red Balloons" in the wake of a nuclear apocalypse, Bjork sings, "I dare you to take me on. I dare you to show me your palms. I'm so bored of cowards who say what they want/ Then they can't handle, can't handle love." No Bjork, they might be able to handle love, but they just can't handle you... you freaky Icelandic chanteuse!
I usually don't pay any attention to lyrics (which, by the way, drives my fiancee nuts). Whether the artists are like Yoko Ono and Elizabeth Fraser (in which vocal texture is more important than verbal text), or they are akin to Frank Sinatra or Chuck D (in which the opposite is true), I just couldn't give two shits about what they are saying most of the time. I just treat vocals like any other instrument when I am evaluating a particular piece of music. For instance, a White middle-aged pseudo-soul man howl is just as annoying to me as a cheesy-ass, mid-1980s Miami Sound Machine wannabe synth horn line. The singer could be giving me step-by-step instructions on how to successfully win the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes and I'd still end up changing the channel.
But, as you've probably noticed by the frequency in which I've quoted her, I can't help but obsess over some of Bjork's song- poems, primarily because they are so damn peculiar. For instance, these are the complete lyrics to "Unravel": "While you are away my heart comes undone ... slowly unravels in a ball of yarn. The devil collects it with a grin ... our love a ball of yarn. He'll never return it. So when you come back we'll have to make new love."
Sure, I've heard plenty of weird 'n' wacky couplets by professional acid casualties such as Robyn Hitchcock, but the way Bjork delivers her verses is completely without pretension and artifice.
I have to say that this album lives up to the promise that Bjork made to me when I first heard The Sugarcubes' "Birthday." That bleak single with an odd time-signature, a wobbly bass line, a warbling treated trumpet and lyrics about child molestation sent me running to the record store the second I heard it. I was disappointed that the rest of Life's Too Good wasn't like "Birthday," but fortunately I could hear her telling me, "Don't worry Kembrew. One day I'll make an album that completely fulfills all of your neurotic fantasies."
for making my dreams come true.