I NEVER LISTENED TO THIS BEFORE
Björk has been on my radar for a while, for a couple mostly speculation-related reasons. I like famously unrestrained auteurs (as anyone who has heard me gush about Frank Zappa will attest), and I’ve always felt uncomfortable about how little women are represented in my musical listening habits. No more!
The feeling I got listening to Debut is the same feeling I got listening to We’re Only In It For The Money, specifically “Okay, so the music itself is pretty good, but this artist’s personality is FANTASTIC! I feel like I’ve been spending the album’s runtime getting personally acquainted with them! I need to listen to everything with their name on it RIGHT NOW!”
Thankfully for my sanity, Björk’s catalogue is far smaller than Frank Zappa’s, so I actually have a chance of hearing everything she’s recorded within the next decade. I’ll let you know how this musical ride goes as I go through it, but for now, we’re left with Debut. That’s cool with me.
It’s hard to describe what exactly clicked with me about this album so quickly, but rest assured it has everything to do with Björk herself. The most noticeable thing about her is, of course, her voice. Her vocal style is less about carrying a vocal melody and more about throwing in unpredictable, bizarre, and often downright gorgeous affectations. It’s a stage-like philosophy, but I’ve never heard anyone take it so far. Her vocal frills and mini-riffs are filled with vibrant personality, believable emotion, and winking humor. Even better, her incredible versatility never gets in the way of the actual hooks. These are solid pop songs that worm their way into your brain, provided you like weirdness in your pop music (which I do).
Not that most of the production is abrasively bizarre or anything, just unusual enough to be memorable. It draws heavily from the European house scene of the time, and while it will probably grate on those who don’t like 90s electronic, I found it to be engaging all the way through. I’ll name more specific examples in a bit, but generally the production has the same air of bizarre whimsy created by Björk herself.
And let’s FINALLY get to that. Björk’s sheer presence on this album, both in unity and diversity, is enough to make me give it a perfect score. George Starostin described her as a “pixie”, and as much as I’ve tried I just can’t come up with a better description. Sure, on a basic level, you could just leave it at the fact that she’s absolutely adorable here, but where’s the fun in that (though for the record, this is one of the most squee-inducing albums I’ve ever heard)? Yeah, she’s cute and shy and naïve and giddy and all that stuff, but she’s also a mighty singer with a sharp, snarky sense of humor and a commanding charisma. Her delivery and writing are absolutely engrossing here, and it makes the album much more colorful than most 90s electronica albums.
Her vibrancy makes for a ton of memorable moments. The initial four-song stretch, for example, is pretty much perfect. “Human Behaviour”, besides adding fuel to the “Björk is actually an alien” theories, has her dynamically soaring through a memorably twisted melody, complete with a surprisingly dark synth part underlying the second half. “Crying” is just one brilliant section after another. It’s somewhat haphazard as a whole, but the individual effectiveness of the glistening intro, sharply pronounced verses, atmospheric pre-chorus, emotive chorus, and abrasive post-chorus can’t be denied. “Venus as a Boy” is far lovelier then the concept of “music version of the cover art for a steamy romance novel” should allow it to be, mostly thanks to Björk’s intoxicating delivery and the decadent arrangement. “There’s More To Life Than This” is just a gob-smackingly brilliant “party” song, for reasons that I don’t even need to try and describe because if you’ve heard it even once you know what I’m talking about.
Nothing else on the album equals that initial stretch, but it’s still great. “Like Someone In Love” relies on nothing but a minimalist arrangement and Björk’s voice, and it’s a testament to how captivating they are that it works. “Big Time Sensuality” is essentially a straight-faced dance song, except with Björk singing and a wonderfully fun melody (I haven’t discussed the songwriting much on this album, since it tends to get overshadowed by the way it’s delivered, but rest assure it’s great). I’ve been trying to come up with a description of “One Day” for the last five minutes, and the best I can come up with is “deeply syrup-ily atmospheric.” “Aeroplane” continues the atmosphere in a mystically exotic direction, albeit with occasional intrusions by Zappa-like wacko jazz stuff and Björk’s vocals at their most “place-taking.” “Come To Me” is so warm, human, and just plain adorable that it almost feels like a thesis for the entire album, even if it doesn’t sound like most of it. “Violently Happy” is a bit of a tossoff, but fun and resonant while it lasts. “The Anchor Song” is an interesting arrhythmic experiment, a strange ending to the album but one with a bizarrely twisted kind of beauty.
My gut feeling is to give this album a transcendent score, add it to my personal top 10, and move on. But since I’m now absolutely fixated on hearing everything Björk has ever put out, I’ll hold off on it until I’m more fully aware of this album’s quality within the larger context of her career and output. Still, no promises I won’t come back to this one bump it up to a 10+. This is the most lovable album I’ve heard in a long, long, LONG time.
Thematic Content: 5/5
Lyricism: 4/5 It’s less about the actual words and more about how they’re sung, but they’re still pretty great for the most part.
Experience: Having your dreams haunted by a mischievous sprite after a long night of partying. Like, the kind of sprite who outright TELLS you that you’re asleep and that it’s like 7:30 AM and you’re supposed to be going to work now.
10/10 (for now). Best Song: I honestly have no idea. Any of the first four, I guess.
8/15/16 EDIT: Yup, this is definitely a 10+, and my favorite album of Björk’s for sheer personality.