Before making ‘Vulnicura’, Björk had two things removed from her: a throat polyp and a domestic partner, American artist Matthew Barney. Her ninth record, then, is the obligatory break-up album, one sung with extraordinarily renewed power. It hardly seems like a conscious uncoupling: the Icelandic diva bleeds utter devastation, drenched in strings and despair. Best to pack this one away on Valentine’s Day – it can be bleak stuff, even for a singer whose greatest love song once imagined tossing her body off a cliff with the silverware.
But for all the frigid glitch and razorblade rhythms (supplied by producers Arca and The Haxan Cloak), Björk blows ample warmth into the tunes with her fire breath and frank lyrics about family and fucking. ‘Vulnicura’ is big-budget, chrome-polished and personal; the closest comparison in her catalogue is ‘Homogenic’, with the epic ‘Lionsong’ standing in for ‘Joga’. ‘Maybe he will come out of this loving me,’ she belts with that bulldozer soprano, before adding, ‘Somehow I’m not too bothered either way.’ (Hey, Barney, all your stuff’s to the left, to the left.) After sinking to the gothic depths of ‘Black Lake’, the album claws its way back to hope. By the closing drum stutter of ‘Quicksand’, you’re able to dance – provided you grew up on Aphex Twin.
Björk’s last outing, the ornate and semi-educational ‘Biophilia’, stood gosh-wow in the grandeur of the cosmos and too often came off like David Attenborough writing a dubstep ballet. Now, instead of marvelling at the forces of nature, Björk is back to realising she is a force of nature. Cocooned in black latex and a shimmer of fibre optics on the album cover by Japanese designer Maiko Takeda, the 49-year-old has the appearance of a dandelion and a sex toy. But it’s you who will be blown to bits.
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