23 January 2015, One Little Indian
So teenage, so simple: so Björk willingly describes her lyrics on ninth studio album Vulnicura. The title is Latin, literally translating from ‘vulnus’ plus ‘cura’, a cure for wounds. Three songs into the record, though, and you’re left desperately looking through the many many vulnus(es) for this cura. There is no cura.
The record chronologises the Icelandic icon’s overly publicized split from San Francisco artist Matthew Barney, but it would be banal to simply term Vulnicura a break-up record. It is a discredit to the album to describe it in any less verbose terms than devastating. It is the break-up album to break up all other break-up albums with their crying masses. It shuffles Nick Drake’s sound into the cheerful jazzy realms of ‘My Boy Lollipop.’ Did you hear that insistent speech he made about how he “only makes music to make people happy, and oh how happy that is”? That was forty years late, and in reply to Vulnicura.
“It is a discredit to the album to describe it in any less verbose terms than devastating.”
Lyrically, Björk isn’t deluded. It’s some of her worst – at least – most obvious, writing. It sounds like she’s that twelve year-old boy, crouching in the corner of the school playground wearing his ennui-stained black and white fingerless gloves as a metaphor for how his soul is broken. “Did I love you too much?/ Devotion bent me broken.”
The opener coerces with a higher-intelligence model of Erasure: “show some emotional respect [to me?]” Yet the lackluster lyricism is forgiven when sung from her overly accented come celestial voice. This is a musician not afraid of recording songs in bat-filled caves in mid-Bahamas, after all. Suddenly the lyrical insouciance sounds profound, and, as it’s Björk, it probably is.
The compositions are nothing unusual, which, for someone so effortlessly sure on being avant-garde, is unusual. Instead of opting for heavier, harsher beats, Björk returns to the string arrangements more avid in 1997’s Homogenic. She has described the arrangements to be a means of keeping herself occupied, and it’s perhaps this reluctance to finish a song which has left her with one of her longest albums to date. All songs but two exceed six minutes, and the third track ‘Black Lake’ is her longest ever.
Seventh track ‘Atom Dance’ is the record’s albeit brief volta. A collaboration with Antony Hegarty (Antony & the Johnsons) seems to hold hope as unsurely and embarrassed as a 16 year-old’s first lotto ticket, against the otherwise wonderfully bleak (morbid) production from Arca (responsible for Kanye’s Yeezus, and FKA Twigs’s LP1) and The Haxan Cloak. They only bought it as a rite of passage and after forgetting to watch the draw it seemed less emphatic, more mourning the loss of a few pound coins. Even then, this was hope, not the promised cura.
Amid the lurid imagery of ‘Mouth Mantra’ and supportive end-track ‘Quicksand’ chronicling Björk’s heartbreak in the context of millions of other women’s, Vulnicura is striking, and one of her most candid. From a career fast approaching its fortieth year, this is not the album I was expecting from Björk, seeping with intrigue and experimentation, just as I’m sure it’s not the one she wishes she had to write. But, amid the heartbreak, her discography is a vastly more impressive place.bookmark me