When most people think of Björk the think of the Sugarcubes and probably the infamous swan dress. Her solo work certainly has a strong and varied fan base, though I’m not sure how many of them have ever listened to her pre-Sugarcubes projects like KUKL and Tappi Tíkarrass. But she was putting out music even before that. All the way back to 1977. When she was all of 11 years old.
Björk is probably the most expensive record I own. I get uncomfortable when talking about the price of records one you get outside the typical new release prices, which today seem to have somehow snuck in to the $25-30 range. I’ve tried to resist my collecting nature when it comes to records, with varying degrees of success – I rarely buy something on vinyl if I already have the CD or mp3, and if I can find a re-release for way cheaper than an original I’ll usually go that route. But when I saw that Lucky Records had a copy of Björk for sale, I kind of knew I was going to bite the bullet. Which is weird, because I’m far from a Björk super-fan and, after all, this is a record recorded by a 12 year old girl. But there is something simply compelling about her – her look, the sound of her voice, the projects she takes on. I’m pretty much convinced she is a genius and she herself may be circumstantial evidence of other planes of existence that most of us just can’t seem to tap into.
So Ingvar and I worked out a deal, and I brought home an original copy of Björk. There have been a number of re-releases and bootlegs over the year, and even those command some decent prices, so maybe I’m breaking my own rule here. But let’s be honest. They aren’t really “rules”… just sort of “guidelines.” It’s not like I have to answer to anyone other than myself when I break them. Holly is more likely to roll her eyes at my self-torment and the process of trying to convince myself it’s OK to buy something like this than she is to even give a second thought to the purchase itself. Because I’m neurotic in this way, and she knows it. She’s been watching it happen for a long time.
But back to Björk. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting here. Maybe some type of transcendent experience. But actually this record sounds like pretty much what you’d expect a 1977 album by a talented 11 year old girl. Look, today all the studio bells and whistles can make a kid sound like the most perfect pitched mature singer you’ve ever heard. But this was recorded in 1977. Björk sounds like a kid. Because, in fact, she was a kid. It’s apparent she has a strong singing voice, but overall the music has a slightly jazzy, slightly funky, slightly eastern feel to it, and her vocals, which are up in the mix and obviously the focal point, aren’t overly produced are modulated. She had a very clean and clear voice, but we don’t yet get hints of the uniqueness she would exhibit later with an approach that often mixed signing and screaming and had a unique, signature sound.
Björk includes both originals and covers, most notable an Icelandic version of The Beatles’ “Fool On The Hill,” which may be the one place where I can hear her start to push her voice. It also features a fair amount of flute, which I believe was her primary instrument. It may be the most interesting track on the record, the one which started to hint at what was to come. But of course that’s all easy to say 35 years after the fact.
Björk is an interesting first step in a long, successful, and innovative career, and as such it attains a certain level of importance. But in reality it’s not an album I’m likely to play over and over again, so if you’re interested in just the music, look for one of the less expensive re-releases or CD versions.