Björk has called her latest live show her “most elaborate staged concert to date” and the most ambitious project she’s ever conceived — strong words from one of the most singular artists working in music.
Few figures seem to live their life as a piece of performance art, but the Icelandic native is one of the most complete works to emerge in the last 30 years — a visionary in music, dance, theatre and fashion — her swan dress at the 2001 Oscars is still one of those ‘moments’ that you could still reference in a meme, or attempt (and fail) at a Halloween party.
Björk’s new show Cornucopia is the theatrical presentation of her 2017 album Utopia — with its expansive electronics, flutes, choirs and field recordings of birdsong. It’s an album that perfectly evokes its title, after the mental anguish of Vulnicura, a document of the split from her husband Matthew Barney.
After she cut short her previous Vulnicura tour over the turmoil of performing the break-up songs live, Björk has reimagined her live show as a meditation and a quest for peace of mind. Björk co-produced most of the new album with avant-garde electronic artist Alejandro Ghersi aka Arca, who cites her as a major influence on his work, notably on his latest self-titled album.
She says the production is a celebration of “where the acoustic and digital will shake hands, encouraged by a bespoke team of collaborators. Cornucopia is probably as expansive as I will get … an effort to find an equilibrium between all areas”.
The claim that this is Björk’s most ambitious work yet is a tantalising prospect, considering the last time I saw her perform was her Biophilia show — a surreal, epic production that probed the interfaces between nature, the cosmos, humanity and music, introduced by David Attenborough.
For that show she was flanked by a 25-piece Icelandic women’s choir, customised organs and other-worldly pendulum instruments, at one point channelling actual lightning bolts, and finishing with the techno blitz of Declare Independence.
Whether you’re a diehard, a casual fan or a curious sonic explorer, you’ll be heading to a Björk show knowing you won’t be spoon-fed the ‘hits’.
While classic artists such as David Bowie and Madonna are known for their chameleonic shifts in sounds and characters, Björk has had a fearless disregard for convention since emerging as a young teen fronting dream pop band The Sugarcubes and her nine totally distinct solo albums.
Her 1993 record Debut was an instant classic of timeless electronic pop, house and trip-hop, while Post and Homogenic explored sharper techno and industrial paths — notably on the dense, paranoid Army Of Me.
And for every spectral vocal melody on an album such as 2001’s Vespertine, she’ll counter that with Icelandic throat singing, hip-hop beatboxing and growls from Faith No More’s Mike Patton on her fiercely experimental album and career highlight Medulla.
It almost seems perverse that she had her biggest hit with 1995’s It’s Oh So Quiet, with the famous Spike Jonze video nominated for a Grammy.
The song is a big band Broadway show tune that felt immediately detached from the pop world and Britpop of the mid-90s.
And some 20-odd years later, Björk is still reimagining her music as theatre, and an all-engrossing, shape-shifting work of art.
- Björk plays the 3Arena in Dublin this Thursday (November 28)