Björk - Debut
Record Label: One Little Indian
Release Date: 5 July 1993
Releasing a solo album is a notoriously risky prospect. By fleeing the safety net of the group, the artist is condemning themselves to a higher degree of critical scrutiny. Any album released as a band is by its very nature a collaborative effort, no one individual can be held accountable for the success or failure of an album released as a group. The same cannot be said for a solo album, if it fails, there is only one person to blame; the artist themselves. Furthermore a solo album risks tarnishing your previous works by association; implying that because your solo album was poor, your contribution to the group's previously successful albums must have been minimal. In every artists mind when they shed the protection of the group must be the worry of whether they will succeed and transcend their previous career. Will they flourish like Beyonce’s career post Destiny’s Child, or will they flop like Ringo Starr’s solo endeavours post Beatles?
Icelandic singer Björk Guðmundsdóttir has been making music since she was 11, most notably in the post-punk band KUKL and the alternative rock band The Sugarcubes. Released in 1993, Debut sees her cast aside these influences and embrace the burgeoning house culture at the time, mixed with Portishead style trip-hop and a sense of jazz sensibilities that she undoubtedly acquired during her recording of a jazz album with Guðmundar Ingólfssonar.
Björk takes her creativity to levels previously unheard in The Sugarcubes, and sees her stretching her voice to new levels. While she is blessed with a technically impressive voice, it is her ability to sing with absolute confidence is what propels Debut and allows her to attach a sense of personality and intimacy to the previously sterile environment that was the early 90s electronic scene. She growls, yelps and screams and the result is that songs like Big Time Sensuality or Violently Happy are a joy to listen to, providing an unheard organic sound into what superficially is a dance track.
Debut possesses an unquantifiable, yet very tangible playfulness on every song. Whether it is singing about the joys of hardcore sex on Big Time Sensuality or recording a song live in the toilets of a club, there’s a sense of spontaneity throughout. The listener is unaware precisely of what is coming next, simply because it appears Björk is unaware of her next step.
However, not everything Björk touches on Debut turns to gold. Aeroplane meanders instead of powering through and for the first time we hear a lack of conviction in her voice. Furthermore, while Like Someone In Love is a very intricately and beautifully arranged ballad, it fits awkwardly in the track listing, sandwiched between two songs that capture the sweaty intimacy of the dance floor; There’s More To Life Than This and Big Time Sensuality. It’s moments like this that remind the listener that, as should have been evident by the title, this is Björk’s debut album. Missteps like the above will be corrected over the years as the artist develops their own identity. It is natural that a debut album would have an almost schizophrenic lack of identity and cohesion, as Björk herself was probably unaware exactly what she wanted to sound like.
What truly propels Debut from being a very good album into the realms of greatness is Björk’s willingness to improvise and take stylistic risks and gambles. The album’s opener, Human Behaviour has a striking guitar riff the sort of which wouldn’t feel out of place in KUKL's abrasive punk sound, and the album closer The Anchor Song thrives on just brass instrumentation and Björk’s powerful vocals.
Ultimately the album is a triumph and proof that electronic music can have a warm human touch and show an intimate portrayal of an individual in the sense of flux. With her debut album, Björk has accomplished more in one album than most artists accomplish in their career. It showcases her future potential to evolve and progress further. It is a resounding success, in every definition of the word.