Björk, Utopia | Album Review
Ever-intriguing, Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk returns with an exceptional new album, ‘Utopia,’ encompassing life, love, and the gift of music.
Björk is one of few musicians who continues to ‘push the envelope,’ even after a lengthy music career. Every album brings something truly beautiful, bizarre, and left-of-center. The fact that the Icelandic singer-songwriter continues to embrace an innovative spirit and separate herself from everyone else, is enough to make any album she releases a “breath of fresh air.” That said, Utopia is that “breath of fresh air,” with Björk continuing to shine.
“Arisen My Senses”
“Arisen My Senses” commences with random sound effects – not far-fetched for Björk. It settles into this lush, romantic record. The vocals are high-flying – pure and beautiful to the nth degree from the veteran Icelandic artist. Lyrically, it’s clear she has romance and sex on her mind – Tinder album indeed!
“Just that kiss / Was all there is / Every cell in my body / Lined up for you / Legs a little open / Once again.”
“Is this excess texting a blessing? / Two music nerds obsessing.” Oh boy! “Blissing Me” continues the lushness, radiance, and romantic nature of Utopia. Björk continues to deliver compelling lead vocals. Additionally, the background vocal further amplifies the performance. As always, “Blissing Me” isn’t without the element of mystery. It’s unique and left-of-center – the expectation for most Björk records. Here, her and her love interest are “sending each other MP3s / Falling in love to a song.” Apparently, “The interior of these melodies / Is perhaps where we are meant to be.”
Promo single “The Gate” follows, retaining the glory of its advanced release. From the jump, it’s mysterious to the nth degree. Initially, lyrically speaking, it’s comprised of gibberish. Nearly one-minute-and-a-half in, Björk begins singing clearly. The vibe remains enigmatic, but her tone is pure, compelling, and beautiful. She follows the verse with a simple, but expressive chorus, varied as the song progresses. While “The Gate” is bizarre, it’s also ear-catching at the same time. As always, you don’t hear this every day.
The flute choir sound marvelous at the onset of the title track, “Utopia.” The classical music touches maintain the momentum, enigma, and allure of Utopia. She even gives a shout out to the flutes, singing, “Bird species never seen or heard before / The first flute carved from the first fauna.” But this record isn’t really about flutes but apparently a doomed relationship. The third verse serves as prime evidence:
“Huge toxic tumor bulging underneath the ground / Purify, purify, purify, purify toxicity.”
“Body Memory” earns honors as the lengthiest song from Utopia, just shy of 10 minutes. The flutes continue to add to the drama and colorful nature of the production and song. Additionally, tense strings, angry cat sound effects, choir, and dark soundscapes set the tone for Björk to paint over. Björk reflects on lots of things, including love, sex, rural life, urban life, legal issues, and the future. It’s complex, yet stunning.
The intenseness remains on the enigmatic “Features Creatures,” though the production is more minimal. Here, Björk is affected by men who bear the likenesses to her lover.
“When I spot someone who is the same height as you / And goes to the same record stores / I literally think I am five minutes away from love.”
The flutes return in full force on “Courtship,” which is much brighter than the last couple of tracks that precede it. Additionally, the electronic beats stand out. As the title suggests, Björk paints a portrait of the vicious cycle of dating – courtship.
“Losss” is about just that, “loss.” Björk expresses various ‘losses’ she’s experienced, most prominently the loss of love. In reminiscing about lost love, she poetically depicts the passionate nature of the union.
“I opened my heart for you / Your lower lip so heavy on you / My spine curved erotically / We’re finally vulnerable.”
Interestingly, the production grows more and more intense as the song progresses. The drum programming is particularly pronounced and noisy.
On “Sue Me,” Björk is passionate, but not about sex. She’s clearly concerned about the well-being of her daughter. Once again, she speaks back to her ended relationship with Matthew Barney and the ugly legal battles between them. Among the most eyebrow-raising lyrics reference a vicious cycle on Barney’s end, according to Björk:
“He took it from his father / Who took it from his father / Who took it from his father / Let’s break the curse / So it won’t fall on our daughter / And her daughter / And her daughter / Won’t let this sink into her DNA.”
“Tabula Rasa” restores some of the beauty to Utopia, following two intense numbers – “Sue Me” particularly. Here, Björk speaks about starting anew – a “Clean plate: Not repeating the f*ck-ups of the fathers.” It’s lush, mysterious, chilling, and radiant. The strings add an extra dimension of loveliness. “Claimstaker” proves more rhythmic. Even so, it later restores the rich, lush backdrop. One thing is for sure: “The forest is in me.”
Following the exquisite but brief instrumental “Paradisia” (more flutes), The thoughtful “Saint” speaks on the power of music. Essentially, Björk equates music to being saintly. The music conveys this same sentimental, laudatory vibe towards music. Furthermore, throughout the course of the penultimate number, she cites examples of how music loves and heals.
“She always knows when people need stroking / And is attracted to deathbeds and divorces / I dreamt she cared for my dying grandfather / Lying naked face down on his bed.”
“Future Forever” focuses on moving forward as opposed to living in the past. “Your past is on loop, turn it off / See this possible future and be in it.”
All in all, Björk delivers another well-rounded, intriguing album with Utopia. A lengthy effort crossing the 70-minute mark, it’s well worth the listen. The sounds – particularly the flute, vocal, and string arrangements – are excellent. The production is compelling as well, even if things occasionally get a bit cluttered or noisy. Vocally, Björk is as effective and haunting as she’s ever been.
Gems: “Arising My Senses,” “Blissing Me,” “The Gate,” “Body Memory,” “Tabula Rasa” & “Saint”