Sunday, March 1, 2015

Björk Marathon: Homogenic

The next album would be a drastic leap, musically and emotionally, from Debut and Post for a variety of reasons.

Björk was put under a whole lot of pressure after the release of Post, working nearly 24/7. She ended the relationship with Tricky, her boyfriend at the time. And then, on September 12, 1996, an obsessed fan/stalker mailed an acid letter to Björk's London home that also included an 18-hour videotape of the fan making the bomb, explaining his obsession with Björk, and ultimately shooting himself in the head on camera. Fortunately, the package was intercepted by the Metropolitan Police Service, but the emotional scars that Björk went through was deep and painful. What resulted from this incident was Björk ultimately deciding to disrupt her life and work in London, leave the UK scene for good, reject the "pixie" image, and begin to write more personal, emotional work. She banded with Mark Bell of LFO, Howie B, and Guy Wigsworth to produce that work, first in England and then, with the help of  Björk's drummer who offered his studio as a retreat from the press, mostly in Spain.

In September 1997, that work would be Homogenic, Björk's first-ever self-contained album that is still her most extroverted and experimental album to date.

For the Homogenic character on the cover, Björk went to world-famous fashion designer, Alexander McQueen. She explained to him that the character, and the songs, are about someone who had no choice but to become a warrior,  "a warrior who had to fight not with weapons, but with love."

The album reflects that statement boldly. With this warrior princess theme, Björk also wanted to create "a simple sound" with "only one flavour." This "homogenous" flavor and sound would be fused with chilling strings (courtesy of the Icelandic String Octet), stuttering, abstract beats, and unique touches like the accordion and a glass harmonica. Conceptually, Björk also wanted Homogenic to focus on her native Iceland, to where she's returning back to her home country, and thinking of how to define what "Icelandic music" is. She does this by using the sounds of earthquakes and erupting volcanoes and geysers throughout the album. And on top of that Iceland-sound would be Björk's voice, which also changes dramatically, sounding more primitive and traditionally closer to her Icelandic roots with the howling, screaming, and combination of speaking and singing.

Released on September 1997, Homogenic was instantly met with high acclaim and praise and positive reviews. Naturally, the music videos would also captivate fans, critics, and the world.

The first single/music video to come out of Homogenic is "Jóga", an ode to her native country and to her best friend, Jóga.

This song is by far her most powerful vocal performance from this album, and this video directed by frequent collaborator, Michel Gondry, is gorgeous.

And there would be four more stunning music videos/singles to come:

The sweeping epic, written by Sjón, music video directed by Gondry, "Bachelorette":

The Homogenic highlight about the pressures of fame and her own self-mockery, "Hunter":

The urgent "Alarm Call":

And lastly, the final single, and award-winning Chris Cunningham directed music video, "All Is Full Of Love":

All Is Full of Love was released as a single in DVD format, becoming the first-ever DVD single ever released in the USA, which paved the way for other artists to follow suit. The video was met with universal acclaim for its robotic love theme, the instrumentation, and Björk's powerful vocals. It has also been on many "best music videos of all time" lists from Time, NME, Music Radar, and MTV, and the video today is on permanent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Homogenic was also acclaimed for its non-singles to, some of those highlights being:

One of  Björk's most gorgeous songs ever, "Unravel".

This video would be made much later in the 2000s as a backing tool for her Greatest Hits tour, but goodness, how could I not share this one? So ethereal, perfectly reflecting the song itself!

Her voice and the volcanic beats soars and pleads for emotional healing in "All Neon Like".

I've always loved "5 Years" for how aggressive it is, obviously a big "fuck you!" to a relationship ended (supposedly in response to her break up with Tricky). Not to mention, the harsh and rugged volcanic beats in this one? Just amazing.

And one of my most favorite Björk songs is one that so perfectly reflects a soul at the verge of exploding before one's eyes (and ears) is another album highlight, the raging insane, "Pluto". Björk has explained this song as about "being plastered, that need to destroy everything so you can start again". This video was also made much later, used for the Greatest Hits tour, but still, a must-share!

And let me tell you, Björk singing this live is quite something, always a concert favorite/highlight.

Though I've already mentioned/shared "All Is Full of Love," the album version is different from the single/music video version. It's the calm after the storm. No more pain, hurt, and carnage. Just love.

This album was and still is so unique, not only for its music videos and its singles, but just how much Björk bared her soul to the world in such a way that she had never done before. This album's not only about anger, pain, and hurt, but finding the hope, the faith, and the love from such a dark, frigid place.

Like Björk has done with Debut and Post, Björk also relied on live albums, concerts, TV performances, and even a documentary to tell the story of Homogenic.

That documentary would be the one aired on the South Bank Show. It still has yet to be in print, but without a shadow of a doubt, it's not only the first but also the best Björk documentary ever made.

Most notable are the"raw" performances of Björk singing "Unravel" and "5 Years" in the studio, and the scenes when she recorded the album in Spain, and where the documentary shows the making-of Homogenic. It also goes all the way back to her roots: Björk's childhood, Iceland and her history, culture, and nature, Reykjavik, Björk's bands, The Sugarcubes, and Björk's life onward from there to Homogenic. It's beyond me why this documentary has never made it on VHS or DVD. If Björk's history and legacy could possibly be captured in a singe film, it would be in this South Bank profile.

The Homogenic tour would take place from 1997-99, released on DVD as Live in Cambridge

Like the album, the concert DVD for Homogenic is vastly different in mood and tone. The concert(s) for Debut and Post were bright and colorful, but here, all is neon blue, cold and soft. And like the album cover, Björk is that warrior, donning a short white dress with angelic batwing sleeves. Though the tone of Cambridge is much darker, there's still that Björk warmth and sensuality, shining so brightly in these songs that also so happen to be some of my favorite performances here:

"Come To Me"

"All Neon Like"

I also love the performances of these songs too:

"Play Dead" (The one of few times that she performs this track live).

"Alarm Call" is my least favorite Björk song, and honestly, it feels out of place in Homogenic and sounds better suited for Post, but her live performance of it is adorable!

"Pluto"in its head-banging, fist-pumping, emotionally explosive glory!

"Anchor Song" in its sweet simplicity.

The strings-embellished version of this song (which she first sings in Icelandic and then in English) almost moves me to tears.

There are many stand-out performances on Cambridge. Basically, the entire concert DVD is amazing. The string orchestra is so lush and brings new life and meaning to her older tracks as it does for the new. And the audience seem more lively on this tour and concert DVD than they did for her other tours. As amazing is the Homogenic Live CD, which contains a selection of Björk's favorite performances throughout the Homogenic tour, from Cambridge (track 1 and track 16), Paris (track 2), Washington (track 3), Prague (tracks 4, 8, and 13), Spain (track 5 and 6), London (track 7), Tourhout (track 9), Montreux (track 12), and from Later...With Jools Holland (track 11, 14, and 15).

Even though this live album is a combination of different performances/dates, it's pretty amazing how it was edited to where it sounds like one concert that happened in one very special night. And knowing that Björk chose these particular concert performances as her most favorite adds something extra special to such an emotional, sophisticated, and gorgeous live album.

And lastly as part of my collection in the Homogenic era is Björk: Later, the TV performances from Jools Holland where Björk performed songs from Debut, Post, and finally, Homogenic.

Björk was a frequent guest on Jools Holland's show, and I don't blame her, because Jools seems like one down to earth, sweet, and humble guy that treated his celeb guests as human. All seven performances here are stunning, the one most notable being the live performance of "So Broken", a track that was on the Japanese import of Homogenic. This track was written after Björk's stalker committed suicide, as a way for her to deal with the stress of being at home. Björk has said that as she sang this song in her kitchen, she imagined herself being a protagonist in a Spanish soap opera. There are only 3 known performances of the song, one as the B-side it was on the Joga single/Japanese import, another taking place in Spain where guitarist Raimundo Amador joined her on stage to perform a 10-minute improvisation, and the Jools Holland performance. So, this is quite a rarity!

(This is the super-rare 10-minute improvisation performance in Spain):

And here's that Jools Holland performance:

Not surprisingly, Homogenic won many awards, and to this day, it's still praised by critics, and most fans (me included) consider this to be one of her best albums, because it really is genius. With an album this emotional, exploring not only the primal landscapes of Iceland in sound, but also the primal landscapes of her own emotions,  expressed so beautifully through music, one must have wondered...what would Björk's next project be? What could it possibly be? That next project would end up being one of her childhood dreams. In 1999, it was very much closer to her reach...

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