Björk, Iceland's queen of conceptual art-pop, is back with an album full of emotional fallout and heartache
BY DEE IVA
The cover of Björk’s latest album 'Vulnicura', designed by duo M/M (Paris) with portraits by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, sends out a powerful message. Pop’s artful dodger has returned and demands our attention, but this time she’s cut herself open to lay herself bare. Having separated from long-term partner and outsider artist Matthew Barney, Björk wants us to feel her pain too, and she’s raw and bleeding from the blow. Indeed, the luminous quality of the album artwork belies the darker mood within.
'Vulnicura'’s lyrics chart the Icelandic songstress's frustrations and ultimate desolation ('vulnicura' means 'cure for wounds'). Opening track Stonemilker sees Björk asking for ‘emotional respect’ and wanting to synchronise her feelings with those of her former lover. On Atom Dance she aims to peel off ‘dead layers of loveless love’ declaring that ‘no one is a lover alone’. Set against a landscape of stuttering drum machines, haunting strings and atonal chord structures, this makes for uncomfortable listening because this time you know it’s for real. Emotions unravel in 10-minute epic 'Black Lake', a traumatic purging of anguish, pointing a path out of loss.
There’s no room for dancing here and the atmosphere is somewhat gloomy but there’s a raw beauty at work too. Like Laurie Anderson before her, Björk doesn’t seem to be particularly concerned with commercial success anymore, preferring to operate in the outer limits of pop. This experimental approach to songwriting sees her dispensing with the usual catchy hook lines, making 'Vulnicura' a brave body of avant-garde break-up anthems. As Joy Division once said, 'Love will tear us apart’…
'Vulnicura' is out on One Little Indian and is available now on iTunes, with CD and album release on 9 March. 'Björk', a retrospective at New York's MoMa, runs from 8 March to 7 June 2015. A new book of essays and pictures, 'Björk: Archives' is published on 30 March (Thames & Hudson, £40).