Review: Jack Foley
YOU can usually count on Bjork to deliver something a little
different from the norm, so it comes as little surprise to find
that her latest studio album is something of an acquired taste.
Medulla arrives with the distinction of having been
recorded by relying almost solely on the myriad textures and timbres
of the human voice, with only the odd exploratory instrument used
to back things up.
As the artist herself states: "Instruments are so over!"
Having decided to record an album that was part traditional,
part cutting edge, but almost all a cappella, Bjork set herself
"I didn't want it to sound like Manhattan Transfer or Bobby
McFerrin. After that it became a very spontaneous, kind of carefree
album to make. I didn't want to spend another two years making
it just a tiny bit better - fuck that."
The ensuing album was recorded in 18 different locations, including
New York, Iceland, Venice and The Canary Islands, and draws on
the experience of the likes of programmer, Mark Bell; mixer, Mark
'Spike' Stent; inuit throat-singer, Tanya Tagaq Gillis, and Japanese
a cappella ace, Dokaka, to name but a few...
Whether or not the result is the work of genius that some critics
have hailed it is a question of taste, for while there is no denying
the ambition, Medulla is likely to polarise listeners.
Regrettably, I hated it. Bjork's unmistakeable vocals take centre-stage,
but they tended to grate with me, especially when stripped of
the lively beats of her debut album and earlier work.
The mix of the angelic and demonic, the erotic and exotic, and
the joyful whistling that accompanies certain tracks lost me totally,
so much so that it became a challenge to complete the musical
journey each time I resolved to set forth on it.
And while I could admire the scope of tracks such as Vokuro
(which sees Bjork and a 20-piece choir reinventing a piano composition
from septuagenarian Icelandic composer, Jorunn Vidar), or the
'aquatic sojourn' of Oceania, there was very little that
made me believe that Bjork had succeeded in creating the magical
world she set out to. Unique, yes; magical, no.
Barring a couple of tracks (most notably the final effort, Triumph
of a Heart, which actually is worth returning to, courtesy
of its human beat box backdrop), this is, ultimately, an ambitious
but flawed attempt to carry the Bjork persona into new territory.
I would advise taking the journey advisedly.
1. Pleasure Is All Mine
2. Show Me Forgiveness
3. Where Is The Line?
5. Oll Birtan
6. Who Is It
9. Sonnets/Unrealities XI
10. Desired Constellation
12. Mouths Cradle
14. Triumph Of A Heart