On My Record Player Part 4

Bjork – Greatest Hits (2002)

So, this is an interesting moment of nostalgia for me, remembering when I first discovered Bjork. I think it was around the same time I was obsessing over Rolling Stones Top 500 albums of all time and Post was on there somewhere and I noticed that. Ok now I remember. On an MTV episode of cribs featuring Incubus that aired in 2002. It showed the room of guitarist Mike Einziger and he had a poster of Bjork, he also wore a Bjork shirt during the video for Nice to Know You. If you knew me in 2002, my obsession in life was Incubus and to discover the guitarist who I admired being a guitarist myself, being a big Bjork fan, I had to check out this artist he was into. I saw the musicv video for “It’s oh so quiet” a while back and wasn’t really impressed. I think I came cross just the image of the way she branded her name in 2003 and I was mystefied.

I had just begun getting into creating art myself and I felt like the imagery of this really accentuated the appreciation and enjoyment of this music when I was just getting into it. I guess you can from my blogs and use of the word obsession, I am one to get fixated on things for a few months or so and really throw all my passion and focus onto a particular aspect of culture that excites me. That being said, when I came back to ODU for my Senior year of college, my interest in Bjork was massive. I went out and bought her most recent record Medulla and I really enjoyed this and appreciated that she created just about the entire thing with human vocals. I also happened to pick up and discover my favorite Bjork album that I had never heard that changed my life forver…. I just decided at this point that I will make a seperate blog post for this record I was just about to announce, so I’ll save that. Anyways, I took a class my senior year that involved making our  own web pages that represent us and I really geeked out and covered the website with images of Bjork art as I felt that displayed my spirit the best I could imagine in late 2004. So, 6 months later, on my 22nd birthday, my sister wanted to get me a birthday present and the one thing I wanted more than just about anything that was reasonably priced was the Vinyl edition of Bjork’s Greatest Hits from Relative Theory records in norfolk, VA. To have a compilation of Bjork’s “greatest” hits is really neat, especially when  DJing vinyl and introducing people to Bjork who are not familiar with her. Bjork’s music? I am really into vocals and avant garde and with a modern pop structure. This is perefect music for me, and she uses a lot of intense emotion and passion with so much her love for her Icelandic culture and history. Beautiful.

Pitchfork 9.2/10

Many regard Björk’s enduring past as evidence of genius at work, but in a Lutheran city with a population of 110,000 and no internal music industry to speak of, it’s considerably easier to make waves in Reykjavik than in, say, New York City. Add to this a UK music press obsessed with novelty in the post-punk era, and you’ve got a microwave recipe for compartmentalization via xenophile adoration. Or, Enter The Pixie.

Björk was inextricably linked to that somewhat belittling moniker for more than a decade, treated as a misfit toy, adored for her wardrobe, demeanor and delivery, rather than the gripping lyrics and revolutionary music she composed. Composed, I should add, with a little help from her friends: as much as critics fawned over Björk, fellow musicians descended like praise harpies once she left The Sugarcubes, eager to prop up their own careers through her arresting beauty and shattering voice.

Few artists enjoy the kind of universal acclaim Björk has basked in since the beginning of her solo career. The press fawned over Björk’s cutting edge productions, but most focused on her unique pipes; as her success exposed– or, some would argue, created– other Icelandic acts (Sigur Rós, Múm), her voice became increasingly familiar, a recognizable product of her environment. The result: the rest of the world has been immunized to the Icelandic cadence, and Björk is no longer supernatural. Though it’s mostly in contrast to her defining Homogenic that her last full-length, Vespertine, shouldered a somewhat lukewarm reception, at last, we were able to focus on the music, which by its release in 2001, Björk had been ignoring for too long. To lift a quote regarding her latest single “It’s in Our Hands” (included on Greatest Hits): “It was nice to do a full-blooded song after doing a whole album that didn’t have any blood in it.”

She may not have had the blood to give: after Homogenic, Björk dove headfirst into distraction, starring in the critically lauded film Dancer in the Dark, for which she won Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival (unbelievably, she was booed by much of the audience). The soundtrack, composed by committee, was a forgettable showtune restaging of Homogenic, largely ignored by critics and fans (though the latter class certainly embraced its opening and closing tracks). She had always played coat-hanger to chic designers, but took it to a whole new level at the Oscars, donning that infamously absurd, headline-grabbing swan dress to launchVespertine in a questionable appropriation of her celebrity. She wears the dress on the album cover, but it wasn’t shot until weeks after the ceremony. Given her untarnished history of independence, it’s safe to assume the album’s swan motif was determined well in advance of Marjan Pejoski’s quack gown, but it’s a load of nonsense Björk would rather put behind her. It’s a perfect time to review the reason she has access to global media channels: her music.

An absolute tidal wave of Björk releases hit shelves this year: four concert DVDs, two singles (on CD and DVD), a book, a second compendium of her videos (Volumen 2), the endlessly delayed rarities box set Family Tree (featuring a pair of tracks from her days in the excellent new-wave punk band Kukl, who would evolve into The Sugarcubes), and this single-disc Greatest Hits, whose tracklist was determined by fans (Family Tree includes a hits disc of Björk’s choosing). Oddly, it’s the fans’ disc that offers the best look back, stocked with both her catchiest and most dramatic work.

Björk’s website offers voluminous, detailed and extremely juicy histories of each song on Greatest Hits. Discussing them here may well be pointless in lieu of all that data, and anyway, with a Greatest Hits package, it’s the album itself that needs to serve a valuable purpose. We already know all the songs. The only questions here are why would fans buy it, and is it a worthwhile summary of her career?

Like many radio-friendly solo artists, Björk’s albums house a modicum of filler. Hers less than most, but only a handful of great songs didn’t make the cut for Greatest Hits. Of the singles she’s released, only “Violently Happy”, “It’s Oh So Quiet” and “I Miss You” aren’t included. A few stellar long-players like “Headphones” and “The Anchor Song” also fall by the wayside, but it may be worth whatever sacrifice for the bubbling keyboards and clicks behind her latest single “It’s in Our Hands”, and “Play Dead”, a bellowing, early attempt at orchestra-backed pop written with Jah Wobble in 1993 (for a forgettable British gangster film).

With music as unique, affirming and joyous as Björk’s, exploration is almost unnecessary; though some dares have worked wonders (see Funkstörung’s genius remix of “All Is Full of Love”), in the end, many of her drawn-out album tracks aren’t bad as much as comparatively boring. With so many glorious singles to her credit, the remainder of her catalog plays increasingly as afterthought: a Greatest Hitspackage has rarely made this much sense, and though a few classics are left out, there isn’t much more to Björk than this.

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