Battery powered eccentric…
Rating: 7 out of 10
Listening to “Earth Intruders,” all I can think is that Timbaland really stretched his button pushing to encompass more than “promiscuous girls” and “bringing sexy back.” But, I do have to wonder if he does it better than Tricky did in ’95 and if this was a chance for him to appeal to a more art-based sect of the music consuming populace. Or, maybe there was just a lot of loot involved and a chance for him to scrawl some credits on a new set of liner notes; in the case, notes that display the ever-eccentric Björk with an azure visage and some funky fuckin’ threads (possibly pretending to do the medieval “Volta” dance she mentions on her website). And then there’s the sticker: sole enclosure device for the CD that features Björk dressed as an inverted, but festive, light bulb with feet. The sticker’s losing its adhesion. As far as the record, that’s not completely the case.
Volta brings back the electric, trip-hop, and instrumentally-adventurous Björk after her trip into vocal music. 2004’s Medúlla is one of my favorite records of all time. From start to finish its very being seemed designed to enhance, bum or blow minds, and the fact that most of it was propelled with a seeming wealth of throat-born possibilities made it a complete departure for her, though, at the same time, it made complete sense that an album like that would be crafted by her hands. So, with Volta, I almost feel like the wad has been completely blown; as if nothing Björk does from now till she lays the throat to rest will ever effect me as much as Medúlla. But, my job is to be objective, despite my urge to be a complete fanboy.
As I mentioned earlier, Björk sought some production wizardry via Timbaland, who powers the aforementioned polka-march, “Earth Intruders,” and bleep-addled “Innocence.” His most interesting track, “Hope,” is also his most minimal. As a producer, he does successfully pull together appropriate backdrops for Björk’s prose. But, where anything electric is concerned, he doesn’t really stand out. For me, the album’s stands out when the brass section makes its boldest contributions, acting as the common factor this time around as the vocals had been in Medúlla.
“Wanderlust”’s majestic brass, for instance, keeps the track’s chaotic trip hop elements from burying itself in a sonic heap. Not that those elements aren’t well produced and interesting, but any feeling that isn’t already being generated by Björk's voice, is owed to those horns, which wind up making another appearance in the album’s next track, Alt Disney-bred duet, “The Dull Flame Of Desire.”
Apparently a reinterpretation of a poem/piece of music that had appeared in the film, Stalker, “The Dull Flame Of Desire” pairs Antony Hegarty, (from band, Antony & The Johnsons), with Björk in a highly romanticized and operatic exchange, momentarily diverting Volta’s trip hop base into Andrew Lloyd Webber territory. Strangely enough, it works and is perfectly sequenced with the chaotically charged and plugged in “Innocence.”
“Vertebrae By Vertebrae” and “Pneumonia” pair up Hitchcock-ian suspense with modern day production, creating an unsettling, but mesmerizing atmosphere. Bernard Herrmann could’ve composed these tracks, sans the pulsing industrial churn.
Plucked strings, possibly offering an alternative to beats, keys and brass, make appearances in the Asian-flavored and mellow, “I See Who You Are,” then later accent the anti-violent musing in “Hope.” Album closer, “My Juvenile,” reunites Antony Hegarty with Björk, and is carried solely by clavichord and the intertwining of two voices.
The album’s sole misstep belongs to “Declare Independence,” an overlong and annoying anthem of sorts, repetitiously struggles to start a revolution:
”…declare independence/don’t let them do that to you/declare independence/don’t let them do that to you/make your own flag/make your own flag/make your own flag/make your own flag/raise your flag (higher, higher)/raise your flag (higher, higher)/raise your flag (higher, higher)/raise your flag (higher, higher)…”
Belting out the mouths of mall-walking malcontents, hungry for their identities and the opportunity to piss off their parents, may get away with lyrics so obtuse. Here, they fail to impress and succeed at making the eyes roll sky high.
Volta, taking its name from the Italian inventor that gave us the battery, despite being a return to roots of sorts, (that is the roots of just about every album she’s done up to this point), isn’t the best she’s done. But, Björk does continue to create some of the most vocally entrancing, if not audibly enticing, albums, essentially molding her own subgenre within the incredibly broad, and not always accurate, alternative niche. She’s a unique voice and that’s probably all that matters. I’m just thankful she gave us Medúlla.
Letters From A Tapehead