Title: Pagan Poetry
I don't know what this says about me exactly, but I must admit that, when I first heard The Sugarcubes back in 1988, I assumed that trumpeter and vocalist Einar Örn Benediktsson was the leader and mastermind behind the group, while the singer with the amazing voice, Björk Guðmundsdóttir, was just a lucky acquisition. (Why else would they let that guy yell throughout the songs and play his occasional trumpet so badly?!) It never occurred to me that Björk would not only become a successful solo artist, but one of the most significant artists of her generation.
And when I say "artist," I mean it in every sense of the word. Her voice is a miracle of physiology, but it's her ability to conceptualize and innovate that sets her apart from her contemporaries. Her songwriting is quite good and her lyrics have come a long way in the past 20 years as she has become more comfortable writing in English like a native. (This isn't a backhanded compliment—this was a noticeable problem on the Sugarcubes records.) But more than any artist I can think of, her songs are truly married to the sounds that accompany them. Björk seems inspired by the sounds she and her producers create in the studio through a variety of means (most recently, banks of iPads) and she masterfully sets her versatile voice to her surroundings. And, even though she deals frequently with dance beats, her songs rarely sound dated.
Vespertine is not a record I embraced right away. A fan of Homogenic, I missed the rhythmic element of her music, which was replaced with the soft sounds of harps, synth bells and music boxes. But it gave Björk the opportunity to explore the soft quality of her head voice on tracks like "Cocoon" and created the most extreme contrast to date with her powerful full voice when she lets loose as she does in this track. In researching the record, I discovered the videos, none of which would be out of place in the world's most renowned modern art museums. The video for "Pagan Poetry" explores the sensuality and sexual themes of Vespertine, as the singer prepares for her wedding day by being sewn into her dress of pearls. It's a very intense video and not for the squeamish. (You've been warned!)
And tomorrow, 1962!