There’s a reason people speak in reverential tones when they’re talking about Björk. Actually, scrap that, there’s about fifty reasons. But the one that keeps coming back to me is how incredibly forward-thinking the woman is. You can apply this theory to almost all of her work, particularly the stuff she did in the nineties, but if you want to get down to it, go to the source. That’s Debut, the misleadingly titled second solo record that kind of still fits when you consider that Björk first album, a collection of covers of pop songs in her native tongue, came out when she was the ripe old age of eleven. On extended hiatus from her band The Sugarcubes, Bjork found herself in the company of some very trendy people. That included Nellee Hooper, whose dark, dance-infused touch Björk would be an imprint for most of the album and had previously worked on Massive Attack’s seminal Blue Lines (1992) and my favourite soundtrack of all time, Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet. What happens when a young, perilously talented singer gets together with a lion of the club scene and magic-hands producer? Pure aural fireworks.
This record spawned some of Björk’s most beloved singles, including ‘Human Behaviour’ and ‘Big Time Sensuality’. More overlooked but no less incredible is ‘There’s More To Life Than This’, a piece of performance art that just so happens to exist in the framework of a song. Aside from what it sounds like, I love the story behind this track. Way before Oliver $ and friends were getting self-referential about playing talking to their audience on a club track, Björk literally took herself down to the famous Milk Bar in London and recorded herself in the toilets. On a regular night out, surrounded by people. That’s pretty bold, even moreso when you think that the perspective swings and shifts when she moves; the audio shrinks out of earshot when she heads back out to the dancefloor, and disappears entirely when she runs out the door. You can hear people – and not a rent-a-crowd either – right in the thick of it, and when the beat first comes in, you honestly believe it’s blaring out of those club tweeters. And that’s before you realise the importance of Milk Bar in the UK cultural spectrum. Started by DJ Nicky Holloway,it’s where you could catch now-legendary BBC DJs Pete Tong and Gilles Peterson for next to nothing. It’s where Jamiroquai got signed after playing a set. It’s literally soaking in musical legend. And that crazy Nordic woman is in there recording a rave in the ladies’.
Björk is a fascinating vocalist, and those remarkable sighs and growls that I documented when discussing Post are already evident here. However, it’s her insatiable thirst for life, to experience everything that’s out there (leading, probably, to the title of the song) that makes her truly unique. Across her recorded output, she’s never shied away from anything, whether that’s stylistic, melodic, conceptual or emotional. In that sense, and especially in the context of this warped take on late-night hedonism, she’s essentially without competition. Every note she hits feels like she’s sucked in huge gasps of air, well aware that this expedition could be her last. The play on form is a conscious decision to push and push that envelope, and yet it sounds incredible. It’s easily some of the most listenable avant-garde music around, and that’s something that needs to be celebrated. Every time I press play on a Björk song, and entire dazzling universe opens itself up to me, and I forget whatever was bugging me and let it drown me in colour.
There’s more to life than this indeed. There’s Björk.
Björk – ‘There’s More To Life Than This’