ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (12/22)

Album : Debut – Björk
Review : NME, 3 July 1993
Author : Johnny Dee

LET’S ADMIT it, the Sugarcubes resided in a border town south of Obscure and just north of Wacky. They juddered and lurched like difficult children, throwing toys against walls, scratching non-existent itches. They were the Euro B-52’s. But there was, above everything, that voice, an alien screech that coughed up puffin feathers, cracked, screeched and soared like nothing you’d heard before.

Five years on and ‘Birthday’ still sounds ridiculously stark and extraordinary because of it. But, then, as you found yourself consumed by its strange beauty, in walked Einar The Irritant barking a bizarre psycho-babble rap, bringing even the most goo-goo eyed back down to earth with an ugly bump.

Is should, therefore, come as some relief to find Björk left to journey alone without the ideas of a group cluttering up the landscape. The surprise, though, is that she has fashioned an album as elaborate, unique and fresh as ‘Debut’. It’s hard not to bellyflop straight into the deep end, cry, “Album of the year, end of story”, and float off on a sea of hyperbole. ‘Debut’ takes you to strange, uncharted places. No group could make an album like this – too many ears to please. But, although this is very much Björk’s album (you get the impression that these are songs she’s carried in her mind, like secrets, for years), the contribution of producer Nellee Hooper is vital. The man behind Soul II Soul‘s symphonies, he has managed to throw manifold ideas into this exotic soup without making it sound cluttered and overdone.

With his involvement and Björk’s previous solo dalliance with 808 State it would be easy to assume she’s become a fully fledged house diva. Not so; ‘Debut’ may walk the same side of the street but it wanders into jazz, film soundtracks, pop too. Heck, there’s even a couple of songs Babs Streisand wouldn’t blink at covering. And then there’s the just plain weird (natch).

The first three tracks are built from hypnotic loops. On ‘Human Behaviour’ a swampy kettle drum jazz vibe circles around Björk’s rasping larynx, trying to find a melody but eventually settling for the search. ‘Crying’ swims on a niggling piano riff, while the wonderful ‘Venus As A Boy’ creates an Arabic mantra. Here, as on most of the album, the tonsil gymnastics are kept to a minimum, but it’s still a vastly disarming sound: a voice only a lifetime of Marlboro abuse or a guttural foreign language where people have names like Gudmundsdottir could create.

There’s a bonkers part in ‘There’s More To Life Than This’, though, where she sounds positively possessed. Allegedly recorded live in the Milk Bar toilets, a muffled house beat chunders away somewhere in the distance amid giggling chatter, then a door is closed and Björk is left to sing alone about nicking boats and sneaking off into the night. This woman is quite patently barmy.

But even this is ill preparation for ‘Like Someone In Love’. Accompanied only by 80-year-old harpist Corki Hale, it’s the kind of tearful ballad you’d expect to find in the sad interlude of some crackly old black and white Judy Garland film. More fun, madness and surprise follows – the pulsating grind of ‘Big Time Sensuality’ and ‘Violently Happy‘ plus the sweet unearthly breeze of ‘One Day’ which ripples along to baby gurgles and ambient fizzes.

This is an album that believes music can be magical and special. It will either puzzle you or pull you into its spell. And if you fall into the latter category, ‘Debut’ will make every other record you own seem flat, lifeless and dull by comparison.

mp3 : Björk – Venus As A Boy
mp3 : Björk – Like Somone In Love
mp3 : Björk – Big Time Sensuality

JC adds : Anyone who is familiar with my own past postings on this album will be more than aware that my thoughts very much echo those of Mr Dee.

There you go, the grumpiness from yesterday has been forgotten already.

 

IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (38)

“After The Sugarcubes, I guess I had a mixture of liberation and fear. It had been obvious for a while in the band that I had different tastes than the rest. That’s fair enough – there’s no such thing as correct taste. I wrote the melody for “Human Behaviour” as a kid. A lot of the melodies on Debut I wrote as a teenager and put aside because I was in punk bands and they weren’t punk. The lyric is almost like a child’s point of view….”

Nobody anticipated the sounds that Björk would bring to the party with her first solo material after The Sugarcubes had called it a day. There was a fair chance that it would be a touch different from the music she had made over the years with her band, but surely it was still going to be indie-schmindie with the emphasis still being on a traditional line-up of a guitar, bass and drum, with a flavouring of keyboards……so it was something of a shock to the system to hear this:-

mp3 : Björk – Human Behaviour

The single was released in June 1993. My first recollection of hearing it would have been at least a month later when I was browsing in a record shop I was known to frequent on a very regular basis (although to be more accurate, it should have been called a CD shop as about 90% of the stock was in that format), when my ears picked up that Björk was singing over what seemed to be an experimental trip-hop outfit. I hung around for a bit and found myself intrigued and enjoying the music, although I still wasn’t sure what was going on and whether it was a new record or was it something on which the chanteuse was guesting. A chat with the sales folk established that what was playing was an album, appropriately called Debut, which was the new material from Björk. I mentioned that I was a fan of her former band but was told that this was nothing like the old stuff, but in a good way. I was also, very kindly, offered the chance to take the CD home with me for free, on the proviso that I would return it after the weekend if I didn’t like it or pay for it the next time I dropped in. The cash was handed over a few days later………

I think I would have struggled if I had heard Human Behaviour in isolation – I certainly wouldn’t have forked out the money for what would have been an expensive single. It’s not the most commercial sounding piece of music and was from a genre of which I knew very little, albeit the stuff I had managed to pick up, such as Massive Attack, was finding favour…..but deep down, I was still an indie-boy at heart. It was only hearing it in the wider context of the album and taking the time to luxuriate in all that was coming out of the speakers that I was able to realise just how special the debut solo single had been.

Here’s the mixes that were made available on the 12″/CD singles:-

mp3 : Björk – Human Behaviour (Speedy J. Close To Human Mix)
mp3 : Björk – Human Behaviour (Underworld Mix)
mp3 : Björk – Human Behaviour (Dom T. Mix)
mp3 : Björk – Human Behaviour (Bassheads Edit)

All are at least six-and-a-bit minutes in length. The Underworld mix extends to over 12 minutes. They are all worthy of your considered attention.

JC

DEBUT : TWO CONTRASTING OPINIONS

I’ve been lucky enough to be a guest contributor over at the ongoing series at When You Can’t Remember Anything in which S-WC and Badger run through 200 great songs. As indeed has The Robster who penned some wonderful words about Human Behaviour which then extended out into his thoughts on Debut:-

I remember when Human Behaviour came out (June 1993). I had been a massive fan of the Sugarcubes and Björk was, for me, the quirkiest pop star on the planet. I was gutted when they split as I had never managed to see them live, and let’s face it, three albums was simply not enough. You can imagine my excitement when I heard Björk was going solo and that within a year of the ‘Cubes break-up, her first single would be out.

I don’t know why, but I was expecting something very different to Human Behaviour, something – I dunno – more indie? The final Sugarcubes release was a brilliant album of remixes featuring some of the top producers of the time (Justin Robertson, Todd Terry, Marius deVries, etc) so I should have been prepared for something a little more electronic I suppose. But no, I heard Human Behaviour and my heart sunk.

I’ve come to like Human Behaviour quite a bit in the intervening years. Those timpani drums that echo throughout in time (and tune) with the bass make it sound all brooding and ominous. There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in it, and it’s not all that electronic-sounding really. Some nice growling guitars, an understated rustling snare drum and, of course, Björk’s voice at the centre of it all. It’s masterfully put together, a great production by Nellee Hooper. In fact, it’s not unlike Massive Attack in places, probably for that reason.

The album – craftily-titled ‘Debut’, even though it was actually Björk’s second solo effort, following some 16 years after this [https://www.discogs.com/Bj%C3%B6rk-Gu%C3%B0mundsd%C3%B3ttir-Bj%C3%B6rk/master/1870] – sounds rather dated to these ears nowadays. Human Behaviour still stands up, probably because it is the least electronic track on it. I also still love Crying. But the trouble with electronic music is that it rarely stands the test of time, the sounds get left behind as the technology changes. A lot of ‘Debut’ suffers from that, I reckon.

Reading that led me to dig deep into the vaults of the few postings kicking around from the old blog and to offer this alternative view that I put up back in October 2009:-

I was an admirer of the music released by The Sugarcubes in as much that I bought singles and albums, but usually a few weeks or months after they had been released rather than on the day they hit the shops.

I was slightly sorry to learn of their break-up in 1992, and while I was interested to hear that their female lead singer was going to pursue a solo career I didn’t think it was one that would have a big impact outside of her native Iceland…….(glad I never put a bet on that one at the bookies)

This was another of the records that I first heard snippets of in a record shop while browsing. I recognised that Bjork was singing, but my first assumption was that she was doing guest vocals for someone else. It was only after the third or fourth track in row to feature her talents that I thought there was more to it, and this was confirmed by the ever-friendly indie-store sales assistant. He also told me that in the week or so since the CD had arrived in the shop it had been on very heavy rotation as it was that rare beast – ie an album that found favour with all four folk who worked in the shop.

I told him I was a fan of her former band – he replied that it was nothing at all like any of the old stuff. And he also offered me, as a well-known face in the shop who spent something in the region of £40 a week on CDs, a free copy over the weekend that I could bring back on Monday morning if I didn’t like it. And if I did…..well it would be added to my next bill.

I don’t know how many times the CD was played over the course of that Friday night, the Saturday and the Sunday, suffice to say that not many other things got a look in.

Debut is a record that shifts from one music genre to another with the greatest of ease, class and style (another record that I think does the same is Boat To Bolivia by Martin Stephenson & The Daintees). As such, it is impossible to get bored with it. It’s a combination of the songwriting genius of Ms Gudmunsdottir and magical production from Nellee Hooper (and no I haven’t forgotten that he also co-wrote at least half of the songs).

I listened to this album in its entirety again in the last hour, something I probably haven’t done in 10 or so years. It has not dated one bit whatsoever. It still made me smile, it made me dance and it stopped me in my tracks and made me think about loved ones present and past.

It’s a truly remarkable piece of work.

It was an album that was a slow-burner. It spent ages in the UK charts but never got any higher than #3. Four singles were taken from it, and in a strange reversal from the norm, they reached progressively higher chart positions, with the lead-off Human Behaviour hitting #36 in June 1993. Venus As A Boy touched #29 in August, while Big Time Sensuality climbed to #17 on its release in November. However, in March 1994, Violently Happy reached #13.

If you don’t own this record, do something about it.

So there you are.

Two contrasting views from bloggers whose tastes tend to be quite similar. Incidentally, I’m not saying I’m right and that The Robster is wrong….I just felt it was a good way of illustrating the diverse opinions that can exist and why the whole notion of simply liking or disliking a piece of music just because someone else has said something good or bad about it is utter bollocks.

It’s also why I believe anyone with a taste or passion for music should never be afraid to express their views and thoughts…..and if you want to do so via a guest posting on T(n)VV then don’t be slow at coming forward.

In the meantime……

mp3 : Bjork – Big Time Sensuality
mp3 : Bjork – Come To Me
mp3 : Bjork – Crying
mp3 : Bjork – Violently Happy (Fluke – Even Tempered Mix)

Enjoy

PS : Talking of WYCRA, word reaches me that Badger is on the mend after a wee bit of surgery.  It’s also likely that S-WC, having moved house and got his wi-fi up and running more quickly than he expected, may be posting again, if not today then in the near future.  It’s only been a few days but they have been missed.

FROM THE SOUTH-WEST CORRESPONDENT..WHAT’S IN YOUR BOX (32)

index

index2

The Shoebox of Delights – #4a and 4b
The JBO Perspective 1988-1998/Two Gallants – What The Toll Tells

This week, I have cheated slightly, normally I just select the CD at the top of the pile – the order of the pile, incidentally changes on a daily basis, as my daughter likes to ‘look at the CD’s’ – by ‘look at’ she means throw around the room and use as plates for her teddies various tea parties.

I then try and somehow crow bar in a story from my past and tenuously (really tenuously) connect it to the CD.  Top of the pile this week was ‘What the Toll Tells’ by country rock duo Two Gallants – now much as I love them and this CD, the (only) story I can connect to it makes me angry, to the point where if I talk about it too much I’ll be in a bad mood all day…….

I was given that CD by a bloke called Gareth outside Derby County’s football stadium in March 2006. I used to be good mates with Gareth but one night in 2011 he got drunk on a night out in Exeter – later than evening as we returned to my house (he was staying in the spare room as he lived some distance away) and we all retired for the night. About 2am – Gareth walked into the marital suite of the house and asked me and the wife if we fancied a threesome. He was stark bollock naked and he then vomited on the carpet.  Before that moment I was interested.

I’m joking.

He was a Derby County fan, and to misquote the esteemed journalist Martin Kelner, I wasn’t about to interrupt 35 years of unblemished heterosexuality. Also he was dog ugly, when the Lord gave out looks, poor Gareth was cleaning the toilet. He left the house about seven minutes later. I haven’t seen him since – I did get a Facebook Friend Request off him about two years ago, but I ignored it. That probably makes me a bad person.

mp3 : Two Gallants – Las Cruces Jail

Other than this esteemed blog, one of my favourite places on the Internet is over at Drew’s place ‘Across the Kitchen Table’.

I love his perspective on life (and his utter hatred of ‘fucking decorating’) and the selection of music is terrific. If you haven’t checked it out – you can follow the link from T(n)VV.

One of the best features of the blog has been the series ‘It’s Friday….Let’s Dance’ – where every Friday, Drew selects a piece of classic dance music accompanied by a picture of a nubile young lady (or more often ladies) grooving. When you get to a certain age, little things like this can make your day. I think I have downloaded nearly track this year from the ‘Its Friday’ series – they sit in my own iPod in a Playlist simply called ‘Friday…’

I hope I am right when I say that Drew is a fan of the Junior Boy’s Own label – recently his blog featured a series of posts about some 12” records released on Boys Own – and it was excellent and contained some wonderful music. The CD second from bottom of the pile today – is ‘JBO – A perspective 1988 – 1998’ so I have picked that CD largely so I can wax lyrical about how good it and the label itself is – but also as a nod in Drew’s direction. Hope that is ok?

The album is not only a comprehensive selection (over two hours worth!) of JBO releases, it’s also a definitive collection of what was best about the ’80s-90s so far as dance and electronic music goes. Some of the absolute classics included on the disc are New Order’s “Everything’s Gone Green,” My Bloody Valentine’s “Soon,” The Chemical Brothers’ “Song to the Siren”, “Loaded” by Primal Scream and Underworld’s “Moaner.” It also includes some forgotten treasures such as ‘Fallen’ by One Dove and ‘Naked and Ashamed’ by Dylan Rhymes –on the negative side it includes at least one track by Simply Red – but that my friends is what the skip button was invented for. JBO was the label that took a lot of risks when they first started out and ended up being right at the front of an entire musical movement.

Enjoy

mp3 : U2 – Salome (Zooromancer Mix)
mp3 : Dylan Rhymes – Naked and Ashamed
mp3 : Bjork – Human Behaviour (Underworld Mix)
mp3 : One Dove – Fallen

S-WC

JC adds…………..

(1) I’m delighted that S-WC is appreciative of Drew’s work. His blog is one of the best and most original out there and I’m delighted that over the years, given we have some common tastes in fine music, we have been able to hook up at gigs and over the occasional social pint. He’s a top bloke….and I can vouch that he makes a very fine pasta.

(2) I love how the titles of the four tracks picked out from the JBO compilation can be linked to the tale told above

(3) I’ll say it….cos I know some of you will be thinking it and wondering if you’d get away with asking the question…..what would the answer have been if it had been OPG making the offer and not Gareth…..