1993 – One Little Indian
After her days with The Sugarcubes Icelandic singer Björk decided upon a career as a solo artist and so she came up with one of the most unoriginal titles for a debut album ever to have been thought up and started work on this weird, kitschy little record. On this album Björk lets her voice run free, jumping from a wild banshee shriek to a soft girly whisper, and she lets her music put a new spin on what we are able to call dance music with funky drum beats thrown in with jazz licks and what I can only describe as a certain sense of Icelandic oddness.
Opening up with the wild and rambunctious Human Behaviour and it’s follow up Crying the listener is given a welcome alternative to the regular swathe of nineties techno-pop that was around at that time. The music is much more considered with a definite minimalist vibe that draws attention to Björk’s powerful vocal style. I’m sure for some her breathy squeals would be a big turnoff, but in my opinion her over-the-top vocal dramatics actually work with this music here. She doesn’t sound like she’s trying too hard to be an oddball, it’s just kind of what happened. It’s like you picked up the most precocious of children and told them to make a pop album.
I think that’s where the real charm of this record lies; in its childlike wonder and the playful way it approaches music. I mean, the sheer silliness of recording There’s More To Life Than This in the toilets of The Milk Bar and the sexless romanticism of Venus As A Boy just move beyond their initial air of stupidity and quickly turn into something almost transcendent. Although on some tracks this record’s love for misty eyed fun and freeform vocal technique devolves from the wonderfully childlike into the irritatingly childish. Björk’s warbling of Like Someone In Love, for example, has a similar feeling to that of having to sit your child’s boring school play and clap politely at the end.
Overall though Debut runs more along the lines of Big Time Sensuality and Violently Happy which are just the perfect mixture of danceable pop and experimental weirdness. Nothing too dark or difficult, but at the same time nothing too predictable or boring. Some of the tracks even manage to be somewhat catchy even though there’s probably only one person on this earth who could successfully sing along with Björk’s vocals on this record and her name happens to be Björk.
To my mind though, it really isn’t a great work of high art. It’s all very good, but the experimentalism on here seems to serve no purpose other than fun and it doesn’t really break any of the moulds of what music is capable of. This isn’t really much of a criticism, because when I listen to a record I do actively look for a certain degree of fun, but there is a lot of talk out there about Björk being some sort of a genre crushing musical genius, and with this record I certainly can’t say that there’s really much of that going on. It definitely has the potential to go places never before gone, and on later album’s one could probably say that she went in that direction, but with Debut it all tends to stick much more to the realms of comfort. Once again, this isn’t really a bad thing per se, but I do get the feeling that more could have been accomplished with this.
In conclusion I would say that Debut is a very good album. It toes the line between predictability and utter nonsense with great care and only a couple of the tracks on it fell over the edge and bombed (I’m talking about the likes of Aeroplane and The Anchor Song). I can’t say that it’s a great album, but it is a lot of fun and a highly accomplished piece of work. I’d definitely recommend giving it a listen, and if you wind up being one of those that can’t get their head around Björk’s ridiculous voice, well then that’s just your loss.
And here is the deliciously quirky clip for the track Human Behaviour.
- Björk at Echo Beach in Toronto (chromewaves.net)
- Björk’s Debut: celebrating 20 years of innovation (guardian.co.uk)
- Electronic Musical Innovations – Bjork (derekbunt.wordpress.com)
- Björk’s best TV moments (guardian.co.uk)
- When Björk met Attenborough (foraggio.me)
- Björk’s Debut Turns 20 (stereogum.com)
- A Peach, Camel-Toe and Fake Rock: Remembering Early Bjork (hintmag.com)
- Björk and Sir David Attenborough Team Up in a New BBC Documentary About Music and Technology (openculture.com)