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Monday 19 August 2019

The unique human behaviour of Bjork

After her almost overwhelmingly bleak last album, Bjork's new release 'Utopia' indicates she has found joy again

Bjork has described ‘Utopia’ as ‘optimistic’ and ‘non-narrative’
Bjork has described ‘Utopia’ as ‘optimistic’ and ‘non-narrative’
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

'My music has a high irritation factor," Randy Newman once said. "I've always tried to say something. Eccentric lyrics about eccentric people. But I would plead guilty on the grounds that I prefer eccentricity to the bland."

You could say pretty much the same about Bjork. Her music certainly has a sky-high irritation factor on occasion - though tracks like 1993's Human Behaviour, or 1999's All Is Full Of Love, or 2001's Pagan Poetry (naturally, she sewed pearls into her own skin for the video) or Black Lake in 2015, have an undeniable genius factor to them; an undeniable alternative, experimental beauty to them.

It goes without saying, too, that the pixie-like Icelandic artist rewrites the book on eccentricity...

Who else but Bjork (or Morrissey) could write a song - the aforesaid Human Behaviour - from "an animal's point of view on humans", as she told Rolling Stone magazine in an 1995 interview, "and the animals are definitely supposed to win in the end".

Or who else but Ms Guomundsdottir would pitch up on the red carpet of the Oscars in 2001 as a swan?

There was even a story, possibly so ridiculous that it had to be made up, that the off-beat Bjork was so deeply distressed while filming a role in Lars von Trier's Dancer In The Dark in 2000 that she was alleged to have taken off her cardigan on set and eaten it. As Polly Pernon wrote in The Guardian in 2007: "Oddness is an integral part of her public persona, of course." Of course.

Born on November 21, 1965 in Reykjavik, she formed an all-girl punk band called Spit and Snot when she was 14. In person, unsurprisingly, she is just as out-of-kilter.

I met her in Dublin in 1989 with her sublime band The Sugarcubes (so sublime, in fact, that their debut album Life's Too Good was one of the albums of 1988.)

Proof that she was, or could not be, an ordinary person was immediately provided when I saw that she was wearing a Miss Piggy mask. Bjork kept it on for the duration of our 45-minute conversation after their gig in the SFX in Dublin.

Bjork and the band invited me back to the bar of their hotel, Blooms, in Temple Bar, for a party that went on way too long. Way too long because I was woken up on the couch in the bar of Blooms at dawn by the cleaners, and I was wearing the Miss Piggy mask, which Bjork somehow had managed to put over my poor sleeping head as a goodbye present for our interview. I met her again in 1994 at a Pulp Fiction launch party in London and she denied all knowledge of the Miss Piggy mask.

Kermit The Frog's significant other aside, Bjork has a new album, Utopia, which is worth talking about.

It is the very interesting follow-up to 2015's Vulnicura, a dark album that was primarily about Bjork's split with artist Matthew Barney, the father of her daughter, Isadora.

It featured much soul-baring lyrics, like on Black Lake, thus: "I am one wound, my pulsating body suffering being..."

And then: "You fear my limitless emotions, I am bored of your apocalyptic obsessions… You have nothing to give, your heart is hollow."

It is no surprise then that Bjork, happily, has gone to the other end of the emotional spectrum with Utopia, which she has described, (not inaccurately) as "optimistic", and "non-narrative".

Her ninth studio album was inspired by the fantasy that she and other women can live on a fictional island far, far away from the misogynists who suppress them; chief among them Mr Donald Trump...

"He got elected when I was two years into the album," Bjork said, "and I felt like, OK, it's really important now to be intentional. If you feel this world is not heading the right way, you have to be DIY and make a little fortress, over here to the left."

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