Classic Review – Homogenic / Björk

HoBjork_-_Homogenic_album_covermogenic is widely regarded as Björk’s masterpiece. And just as Björk prepares to (properly) release new album Vulnicura, it seems fitting to hark back to the touching stone for her new album – Homogenic. By this point in her career, Björk had released two hugely successful albums, Debut and Post. She had become the figurehead for so-called ‘IDM’, in essence, she’d peaked. Instead of resting on her laurels, Björk holed up in Spain to record Homogenic, which would later be regarded as a benchmark for all future Björk releases.

Like most Björk albums, they include a clever mix of string arrangements (by Björk herself) and electronic instrumentation such as pitter-patter drums, stabbing synths and the occasional distorted and barely recognisable instrument. I dare you not to listen to ‘Jóga’ and be astounded how someone can fuse the colliding worlds of strings and electronics into something more beautiful than life itself. ‘Jóga’ itself is a study of the mind after a break-up, with Björk thinking ‘Emotional landscapes / they puzzle me’, as if she has become detached from herself after the break-up. This is where Homogenic shares many similarities with Vulnicura as they both concern themselves with the link between the natural and the human experience. Björk looks beyond the initial heartbreak and brings in the otherworldly, which is what makes Björk more than a electronic wizard with a killer voice. The link to nature and her homeland of Iceland gives any Björk album a separate plane of greatness.

Homogenic came out in 1997, and this is a very important factor. Bearing in mind it was the same year OK Computer came and dominated, which unfortunately diminishes the second-most-famous release of the year. However, in the long run, Homogenic has essentially had the last laugh because the sound of Homogenic is palpable on later Radiohead releases such as the all-conquering Kid A. Even ‘Unravel’, with its layered vocals and its straining strings is Thom Yorke’s favourite song ever (as of 2006). So Homogenic may not be the chart-topping success-story, but it is the all-inspiring, copycat-influencing album that will probably stand the test of time better.

Homogenic may come across as frosty and somewhat difficult, in fact, a bit like Björk. However, this isn’t a bad thing. It would be awkward if Björk poured her heart out over a break-up if her lyrics were sympathetic and warm. She is biting, she bares her teeth and she won’t take prisoners. The most-quoted lyric of this album was something that seemed shocking to come out of Björk’s mouth, but it makes sense: ‘I’m no Buddhist / but this is fucking enlightenment’. It’s a tome of break-ups, not to wallow in self-pity, but to just let it all out. In that way, Björk humanised herself from her alien-persona that many assumed she just was all the time. She allowed everyone who heard Homogenic to see through her, and not in a way that would let everyone know who she was. She let them know just enough to think they knew who she was, only to throw them off with a later release, or even the next song, which would be a contradiction. In that way, Björk gets the best of both worlds, a bit of alien and a bit of human, something that artists today are still taking influence from, such as St. Vincent, who took an even more electronic turn on her fourth album last year especially on the bonus tracks which are prone to experimentalism.

As always, Björk was ahead of her time, making future-pop ten to fifteen years before ‘future-pop’ became an actual genre with the likes of Grimes and Purity Ring sharing the image and identity of Björk as well as her music style. The album is timeless, it sounds like it could have come from 2050, 2012, but 1997?  This was the time when Oasis were still releasing lad-rock (I still squirm writing it) with Be Here Now and The Verve were all-conquering with Urban Hymns. So who in their right mind releases an electronic-orchestral record that speaks about ‘thought I could organise freedom / how Scandinavian of me?’. I suppose only Björk could.

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