I have to be blunt: I do not enjoy this album as much as Debut and Post. I say this while acknowledging that it’s better than both of those albums. My artistic appraisal process is weird.
The reason for my temptation to dismiss this album outright (one that’s thankfully easily resisted for reasons I’ll explain in a bit) is that Björk’s casual steps away from the devilish little pixie she was on Debut have finally cemented. She is no longer an adorable-yet-obviously-capable woman with a wicked sense of humor and a quirky approach to music, she is an operatic goddess. And yeah, she plays that persona very well, but I find it more alienating and less personal, and since her personality was what invested me in her in the first place…yeah, this nitpick becomes an annoying subliminal problem for me.
This isn’t helped by the fact that TWO of the mere ten songs here fail to excite me that much. “All Neon Like” follows in the footsteps of “Like Someone in Love” from Debut and “You’ve Been Flirting Again” from Post (a song with minimalist backing carried almost entirely by Björk’s voice), and it’s the worst of those three by a good distance. Not only is the near six-minute runtime completely excessive, but the bludgeoning beat grows old really fast. It’s a shame, because not only are the vocals and lyrics excellent as usual, but there’s some lovely shining synths in the background that could have served the backing track purpose perfectly fine on their own. Instead, I have to hear a dull groove for an abnormally long time. It’s tolerable, but not much else. The other weak point is the very next song, “5 Years”, which is also driven by an ugly, style-free beat, a complete lack of atmosphere, and most damning of all: the album’s least interesting and evocative lyrics. The unnecessary harshness of these songs showcase Björk’s newfound towering overlady position at its very worst, without bothering to be anywhere near as menacing as “Army of Me” or even the album’s own “Pluto.” They’re easily the weakest songs Björk had committed to tape at this point, which makes me question why so many consider this her masterpiece (or even worse, her only album worth your while).
And yet none of this stops me from giving this album the highest possible grade I can give. No, I’m dead serious. For one simple reason: this is a sonic MASTERPIECE. If this isn’t the best produced album I’ve ever heard, it’s at least up there with Remain in Light and Loveless. If I could live in this album, I would. If I could have a conversation with this album, I would. If I could settle down and have kids with this album…well, I don’t know how I would do that, but I would sure as heck try. Any problems I might have with Björk’s presence being not what I really want out of her or two songs that don’t do anything for me are absolutely squelched by the fact that the rest of this album simply SOUNDS untouchably fantastic. Seriously, this was made in 1997? How is that even possible? Where did all these shards of cosmic, icy, explosive deity come from? This is definitely the best “winter” album I’ve ever heard; it sounds like a snowstorm converted into music.
The other important element at play is the melodies, which are possibly even better then Debut. The songwriting on this album gets a lot of flak for its heavy reliance on repetitive codas, but the choruses that get repeated are often so jaw-droppingly powerful that I wish they could go on forever.
For the third time in a row, the first four songs are the high point, and they blow pretty much anything from Debut or Post out of the water. The curtain-opening synths and instantly unforgettable percussive bass that open “Hunter” are right up front with the unstoppably powerful emotions and sounds you’ll find all over this album. Björk enters, echoing as if from the peak of a mystical mountain, and immediately establishes dominance over the landscape of this album, treating its universe as her own personal playground. I didn’t make that “goddess” comparison earlier for hyperbole’s sake: her presence really is that shaking, bellowing as she projects her colorful ideas and exaggerated emotions all over her personal world. In a few parts of this opener, we get a taste of one of the album’s main motifs: electronic textures combined with string textures and melodies. This is taken to gorgeous heights on “Joga”, featuring one of those impeccable codas and soul-shattering choruses I was talking about earlier. Both the strings and synths are perfect, melodic and textural at the same time, to say nothing of the vocal melody, which sounds like one of those ideal compositions that don’t actually ever get written. It almost hurts to listen too, it’s so overwhelmingly beautiful. “Unravel” brings the scale down considerably, creating a comparatively modest but equally goosebump-inducing sonic tapestry, managing to somehow be one of the saddest and most romantic things I’ve ever heard. It’s slow, sticky, sweet, and makes a good contrast to the indescribably epic “Bachelorette.” Not only is the melody absolutely amazing, but Björk takes her voice to its absolute expressive height, creating a massive epochal communication of pure being. Oh, and the lyrics just may be the album’s best as well.
Once again, nothing reaches the height of those first four, but not for lack of trying. After the disappointing “All Neon Like”/”5 Years” rut, we get the pretty good “Immature”, an introspective self-hatchet job that finally realizes the potential of the harsh sound of the last two songs: an affecting tool for flogging both yourself and the person who failed you. These feelings climax in “Alarm Call”, Björk’s personal enlightenment anthem. As you might expect, it’s a lot quirkier and less soulful then most other people’s enlightenment anthems (perhaps best exemplified in the album’s most famous line, an extremely memorable precision F-strike about Buddhism), and as usual the melody, lyrics, and vocals are fantastic.
The abrasiveness suddenly comes back after that moment of triumph in the absolutely terrifying “Pluto”, which bludgeons you over the head with the sheer weight of its anger and chaos, to the point where the coda is basically Björk letting out blood-frying scream after blood-frying scream. It could not be more different from the closing “All is Full of Love”, a return to form gorgeous enough to induce reverent tears. It’s cathartic, soothing, luxurious…maybe not the epic climax I would expect from the album thus far, but I can’t think of a better one.
Since I love this album so much and like the idea of it being Björk’s personal universe (just because I don’t find it as resonant doesn’t mean I can’t find it cool), instead of the usual wrap-up, I present to you…Homogenic: The Musical! The story of the little universe that could, shoved into a semi-Judeo/Christian mold because that’s all I can think of. Enjoy!
Bachelorette – Creation of the World
Joga – The Creation of the Sentient Soul
Hunter – The First Contact with Deity
All Neon Like – The Delivery of the Scriptures (probably the lyrics to Homogenic)
Unravel – The First Great Tragedy, Rise of the Evil AntiBjörk
Immature – Frustration at Allowing the Existence of the Evil AntiBjörk
5 Years – The Battle Against the Evil AntiBjörk
Alarm Call – The End Times, Defeat of the Evil AntiBjörk
Pluto – Punishment of the Wicked
All is Full of Love – Oh yay paradise
EXPERIENCE: The pixie now has a universe.
10+/10. Yes, this means I now consider Debut and Post 10+s as well. Best Song: Joga