Björk – Debut

Björk is definitely an artist that I don’t listen to anywhere near enough. For me, as a newcomer to the world of music, she seemed to appear pretty much out of nowhere with 1993’s brilliant Debut, but of course to anyone who knew what they were talking about, she had been floating around the alternative music scene for six years already as party of The Sugarcubes. Actually, before all that, she was a child star in Iceland, having released her actual debut Björk in 1977, but this is not the story of her career, it’s a review of her Debut album.

But Debut, or perhaps more accurately, “comeback”, opens with the brilliant Human Behaviour, produced, as most of the album is, by the then-prolific Nellee Hooper, and released as her debut solo single in June 1993. It’s a great song, challenging in the way that Björk‘s songs often are, but also catchy and clever at the same time.

Next comes Crying, a slightly more generic but still enjoyable track that leads us through to the frankly brilliant Venus as a Boy, the second single in summer 1993. Producer Hooper had, of course, not long before, taken Massive Attack‘s Unfinished Sympathy into the upper reaches of the charts, and he’s definitely applying some of the lessons learnt here as well.

At the time, there did seem to be quite a lot of singles coming out from this album, although there only actually appear to have been five after all, so there are plenty of songs that would never have been hits, and There’s More to Life Than This is definitely one of these. It’s got a pleasant house-meets-disco feel, and Björk pronounces “ghetto blaster” adorably, but it’s not amazing, frankly.

Just three years earlier, she had collaborated on a partially jazz-themed album Gling-Gló, and it’s refreshing to know that she hadn’t turned entirely to the dance sound, as Like Someone in Love, delivered with a jazz vocal style, pulls together a manically strummed harp, seashore noises, and not a whole lot else actually.

Big Time Sensuality was the final single of 1993, a brilliant house piece coupled on the second CD with millions of remixed by the fantastic Fluke and Justin Robertson of Lionrock. It’s bonkers, of course, but this is one of the finest songs on here.

One Day is pleasant too, a gently chilled out dance track that bobs along very nicely indeed for a few minutes. Some tracks, though, such as Aeroplane, are less interesting. Pleasant to have on here, and useful within the broader context of the album, of course, but definitely less essential.

But you’re never far from greatness on this album – Come to Me is lovely, and Violently Happy, released early in 1994 as the final single, with more mixes by Fluke and Graham Massey of 808 State, actually ended up as the second biggest hit from this release. The Anchor Song is a bit of an odd interlude, but it just about works as the closing track of the original version of the album.

Play Dead closes the album, on all the modern versions – and rightly so. At some point after Debut was originally released, David Arnold worked with her and Jah Wobble on this track for the film The Young Americans. Justifiably the biggest hit from this release, it’s quite fantastic – and a great one to hide for the end of the album. I do feel a bit bad for the people who bought the original version and missed out on this on the end, but if you weren’t quite that forward thinking, you might have had to buy this album twice.

It’s a great album, though, and a fantastic Debut. Highly recommended.

You can still find Debut all over the place – just make sure you get the version with Play Dead on the end of it.

Mercury Music Prize 1992-1994

The Mercury Music Prize launched in 1992, and has always stuck to its guns – in September, a list of the finest albums of the year will be nominated, and then in October a winner is announced. Simple as that. Despite some speculation in recent years that it may have lost its way somewhat, it’s still a good guide to what might be going on in the world of “real” music. Here’s a guide to what happened over its first three years…

Mercury Music Prize 1992

According to The Guardian, the award was devised by Jon Webster, the Managing Director at Virgin Records, who hoped it might become “the Booker Prize of the music industry”, independent of the music industry but with its endorsement. The panel is led by Professor Simon Frith, and chosen by the event’s organiser David Wilkinson.

The prize name, by the way, is purely from the event’s sponsor, the now largely defunct telecoms company Mercury. The first awards took place at The Savoy Hotel, 8th September 1992.

Nominees:

  • Barry Adamson – Soul Murder
  • Jah Wobble – Rising Above Bedlam
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain – Honey’s Dead
  • Bheki Mseleku – Celebration
  • Primal Scream – Screamadelica
  • Saint Etienne – Foxbase Alpha
  • Simply Red – Stars
  • John Tavener and Steven Isserlis – The Protecting Veil
  • U2 – Achtung Baby
  • Young Disciples – Road to Freedom

Winner: Primal Scream

Mercury Music Prize 1993

Nominees:

  • Apache Indian – No Reservations
  • The Auteurs – New Wave
  • Gavin Bryars – Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet
  • Dina Carroll – So Close
  • PJ Harvey – Rid of Me
  • New Order – Republic
  • Stereo MCs – Connected
  • Sting – Ten Summoner’s Tales
  • Suede – Suede
  • Stan Tracey – Portraits Plus

Winner: Suede

Mercury Music Prize 1994

The 1994 awards were controversial, as nobody actually seemed to like the winners very much. The Independent even suggested that they might have won due to positive discrimination. Took place on 13th September 1994.

Nominees:

  • Blur – Parklife
  • M People – Elegant Slumming
  • Ian McNabb – Head Like a Rock
  • Shara Nelson – What Silence Knows
  • Michael Nyman – The Piano Concerto / MGV
  • The Prodigy – Music for the Jilted Generation
  • Pulp – His ‘n’ Hers
  • Take That – Everything Changes
  • Therapy? – Troublegum
  • Paul Weller – Wild Wood

Winner: M People, although Paul Weller thought he should have won

Further information