Bjork - Volta

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

After a string of boundary pushing, diverse albums and projects, stretching from 1997's chilly Homogenous to 2004's almost entirely vocal-based Medúlla, Volta saw Bjork stretch out, relax and have a little fun. However, since this is a Bjork album, even the fun is a little on the avant garde side. Anyone coming to Volta expecting an easy ride must have been a little nonplused (and apparently there were many. Volta is Bjork most successful US release, reaching number nine in the US. Perhaps US record buyers were enticed by Timbaland's name on the list of credits).

But Volta does have a theme of joy and celebration running through it. 'Wanderlust' and 'I See Who You Are' are both about grabbing life with both hands. The former is explosive and bombastic. The latter is a gently undulating, eastern flavoured, recalling Bowie's ambient 'Moss Garden', on which Bjork implores someone to "celebrate now/ while there's flesh on our bones". Both, in common with several songs on the album, make use of brass instrumentation as on odd juxtaposition with the more electronic textures which abound. Both also remind you how disarmingly effective Bjork can be when she tackled a subjects such as mortality head on.

Elsewhere, a manic, almost crazed, energy abound. Opening track 'Earth Intruders' is one of two collaborations with hip hop/R'n'B producer Timbaland. Charging forward like a crazed elephant, it mixes African percussion, operatic vocals and squelching synths to create music completely unlike anything either party have created before. The album's other Timbaland collaboration, 'Innocence', is more in tune with the producers hip hop roots. But its street tough beat feels constantly in danger of being derailed by frenzied ambient noise and Bjork's powerhouse vocal. Her lyrics deal with loss and rediscovery of innocence, delivered which such gusto that she makes being oblivious to sexual desire sound like the most liberating state possible. Timbaland also has a co-writer credit on 'Hope, which is brave enough to deal with the subject of suicide bombers in a compassionate, philosophical way. To date, these remain the last Timbaland compositions on which the producer has betrayed even the slightest interest in creating challenging, groundbreaking music.

'Declare Independence' is another song which seems to have a political message to it, albeit of a more general kind. Over a murky, glitchy rhythm which harks back to her punk roots, Bjork exhorts the listener to "make your own flag/ raise your flag (higher, higher)" before bellowing "don't let them do that to you!" It sums up an album which has the theme of fierce independence at its core, and would also make a very apt anthem for Bjork's career to date.

Best tracks: 'Earth Intruders', 'Innocence', 'Declare Independence'

Richard Morris

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