20 Years Ago: Bjork Becomes an Electronic Warrior on ‘Homogenic’
In 1997, Björk felt she needed to be a warrior. A confluence of events – a couple of busted romantic relationships, a terrifying stalker incident, accumulated exhaustion from the first few years of solo stardom – brought about this persona. She directed designer Alexander McQueen to dress her appropriately for the cover of Homogenic, resulting in the famous picture of Björk as a Japanese Queen of Hearts ruling an African tribe.
“Homogenic is a woman who was put in an impossible situation with a lot and lot of restrictions, so she had to become a warrior,” Björk told Music News and Reviews, “but she fought back not with weapons but with love.”
That love wasn’t just romantic love or maternal love, but a love for her home country of Iceland, which turned out to be a sizable inspiration on Björk’s third album since the breakup of the Sugarcubes. Yet, the singer didn’t return to Iceland to make Homogenic – although she did write some songs when she went home for Christmas in 1996 – but rather used the feeling of home to influence the music she was creating, first in her London residence with Markus Dravs, and then in Málaga, Spain, with a host of other collaborators.
In an about-face from her “musically promiscuous” first two albums (1993’s Debut and 1995’s Post), Björk planned to make this record more homogeneous sonically, leading to the eventual title, which is not an actual word. Although she would work with producers Dravs, Guy Sigsworth, Howie B and – most significantly – Mark Bell, Björk desired a uniform sound, rooted in skittering electronic beats, the strings of the Icelandic String Octet and her own dynamic voice.
“I asked myself if there is such a thing as Icelandic techno, and how it could sound,” she told Oor in 1997. “Well, in Iceland, everything revolves around nature, 24 hours a day. Earthquakes, snowstorms, rain, ice, volcanic eruptions, geysers... Very elementary and uncontrollable. But at the other hand, Iceland is incredibly modern; everything is hi-tech. The number of people owning a computer is as high as nowhere else in the world. That contradiction is also on Homogenic. The electronic beats are the rhythm, the heartbeat. The violins create the old-fashioned atmosphere, the coloring. Homogenic is Iceland, my native country, my home.”
Because of the intensely creative sessions at El Cortijo Studios in Spain and due to Björk’s precise nature, the album’s release was delayed a bit more than a month. Final recordings happened in August 1997, the singer hit the road in September (touring an as-yet unheard album) and Homogenic was released on Sept. 22 by One Little Indian in Europe (the day after by Elektra in the U.S.).
Björk’s icy electronica drew heaps of praise from fans, critics and other musicians, making Homogenic one of the most acclaimed albums of the year. Missy Elliott and members of the Wu-Tang Clan claimed a hip-hop commonality with Björk, while Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke declared “Unravel” his favorite song of all time. The album went to No. 4 in the U.K. and No. 28 in the U.S. (making it Björk’s highest-charting disc in America to date).
Even though Homogenic’s five singles didn’t chart as highly as, say, “Human Behavior,” “It’s Oh So Quiet” or “Army of Me,” and songs such as “All is Full of Love” and “Hunter” fail to remain in the public consciousness quite the same way as those earlier songs, the album as a whole remains beloved. Critics continue to marvel about how, years later, the album doesn’t sound as dated as its trip-hop brethren from ’97. Others have drawn straight lines between Homogenic and current sounds in rock, pop and hip-hop. The warrior endures.
Bjork Albums Ranked in Order of Awesomeness