Someone’s probably going to unleash an army of hunters on me after this but I’ve never really cared for Bjork. She sounds really self-pleased with her – often unnecessary – vocal eccentricities that, in comparison with other two female vocal eccentrics that form the Holy Trinity that everyone has fallen head over heels for (Kate Bush and Joanna Newsom), results in an icy detachment that makes it seem like she’s merely observing the world/the relationship instead of taking part in them. And to be clear, I’m not just referring to her lyrics here (which are broken, even if she’s singing in her native tongue, and which Robert Christgau puts way too much stock in in his few articulated reviews of Bjork albums; his worst reviews, probably); I’m referring to her melodies or more precisely, lack thereof. And you know what? Her cuteness screams fake to me instead of fey.
And I don’t think even Bjork’s most ardent defenders would disagree that Post’s charms mostly reside in its first half; that there’s a dropoff after “Enjoy.” Both “Army of Me” and “Enjoy” employ pummeling basslines that make me unhesitant to call them some of the most menacing trip-hop songs I’ve ever heard, with the latter’s blasts of horns adding to the momentum, culminating in her growling “ENJOY” despite her making it clear that she’s doing anything but that (“I wish I’d only look / And didn’t have to touch / I wish I’d only smell this / And didn’t have to taste”; “This is sex without touching”). And “Hyper-Ballad” might be her most accomplished song, with an addicting drum sound, synth coloring that’s atmospheric during the verses and an exciting laser show during the choruses (“Hyper-Ballad” indeed), and a coda that’s led out by strings. Both “Hyper-Ballad” and the following “The Modern Things” work up sizable climaxes, and as for the latter, be sure to check out the odd gurgle that comes in at 0:47 to mark the “irritating noises of dinosaurs and people.” That’s the first half. Am I missing something? Nah, I don’t think so.
As for the second half? Well, aside from the obvious filler of “You’ve Been Flirting Again” (waste of a great title) and “Cover Me,” songs either run for too long or exemplify what I don’t like about Bjork covered in the first paragraph, or both. She sounds like she’s hung out to dry during the verses of “Possibly Maybe” over an instrumental backdrop too minimal for its own good (and she sounds like she’s deliberately trying to stay on the same note throughout each line); I hear zero sentiment in either “I Miss You” or “Possibly Maybe” despite their sentimental lyrics, and there’s no reason for closer “Headphones” to be 6 minutes long despite Tricky’s lyrical rhythm. I mean, I too like the string hook of “Isobel,” and find the synth line of “Possibly Maybe” to be nice and wintry, and delight in the horn drama of “I Miss You,” and connect deeply – maybe too deeply – with the lyrics of “Headphones,” but come on; all of that is not nearly enough.
Finally, there’s “It’s Oh So Quiet,” which is her highest charting single in the UK and the first Bjork song I ever liked and … one that I don’t like anymore. Like “Work is a Four Letter Word,” this is a case of a song where we should really thank the artist covering it for bringing our attention to the originals and then proceeding to just listen to the original and forgetting about the cover’s existence. (I know YouTube view counts aren’t a good measure of anything because it depends on upload dates and views are strewn across multiple videos of the same song et cetera, but Betty Hutton’s doesn’t even half a million views while Bjork’s kill count more than sextuples her; the disconnect between the Smiths’ “Work” and Cilla Black’s original is even more concerning.) And the thing is: they are more or less the exact same song in both cases, but the originals have a minor change that makes them better, but I guess Cilla Black and Betty Hutton don’t offer the same amount of indie cred points as do The Smiths and Bjork, or any points at all, to be honest. And here, Bjork doesn’t bother with the same detail of the bridge of the original, wherein the band comes in to sing the first verse in a very controlled decrescendo while Betty Hutton shushes them. It was funny and it was empowering (a woman in 1951 telling a whole band of men to shut the fuck up; imagine that) and it is missing in Bjork’s!
When you go back to listen to Betty Hutton’s original, be sure to also listen to the a-side of the same single, “He Says Murder,” wherein Betty Hutton does Bjork’s vocal gymnastics with a lot more tact and humour, just a good forty-some years before Bjork.