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Bjork - Volta

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Artist: Bjork

Album: Volta

Label: Atlantic

Review date: May. 8, 2007

You know it’s a single when Nate Dogg’s singing on it. And when Antony is trotted out for a duet, you’re likely hearing the work of a prohibitive, unapologetic, potentially insufferable eccentric. Someone like Lou Reed. Or Björk. The breathy, mercurial Johnsons honcho chimes in on two Volta tracks, the church-y, brass-bolstered torch song “The Dull Flame of Desire” and the placid lullaby “My Juvenile.” Like much of Volta (which, if nothing else, is already on the A-list for the 2007 Basement Jaxx Heinous Album Cover award), these ornate weepers echo the melodic spookiness of Björk’s Sugarcubes material, but never approach its brash rebellion. As rich as this stuff sounds (it’s hard to think of a working musician with classier production values) or how much she emotes on the mic, it’s calculated, cerebral and a little bit cold.

And yet, if Timbaland produces a cut (the leadoff single “Earth Intruders,” a busy, stuttering sequel to “Army of Me”), you’re likely dealing with (aside from an ample warchest) some serious pop aspirations – not simple hit-hunger, but a fascination with sophisticated dance music as reflected in mainstream hip hop (the pop music that’s popular). On “Earth Intruders” and the other collage-funk numbers (“Innocence,” the digital-hardcore-dumb “Declare Independence” and the far-eastern-indebted sex jam “I See Who You Are”), Volta is a similar exercise to the dreamy dance party of Debut, for a more connected, less rooted age.

Volta isn’t cohesive. It explores a lot of different tunnels. That’s good. It’s fun. It’s got variety. It bears immediate rewards for those who look to Björk for something beyond brand-name eccentricity. She's always been more fun when she's not tripping on any specific conceit.

It’s still, of course, “unmistakable.” And what unifies it is, as is often the case, Björk’s love of musicals. That’s how Selmasongs, a soundtrack album, fits so well into her catalogue – it’s basically another day in Björk’s office. As is Volta, where the baroque pretensions run as high as ever, and the lyrics form a heated, fragmented storyline involving passion, sorrow and indulgence. This is the bugaboo that’s kept her from ever sounding exactly “fashionable,” no matter how many in-the-news special guests she brings in (Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale and drummer Chris Corsano moonlight on Volta) or how much she bones up on her digital beat science. She’s a sucker for musicals, and she’s not sorry about it.

She also draws heavily on early “industrial” music (from a day when initiators such as Einstürzende Neubauten scored their absurd, intense melodramas with the invigorating pound and clang of construction sites, and the word did not yet refer to bush-league misanthropists with loud-ass drum machines), which, after 2004’s one-spin a cappella digression Medulla, is back at the fore here.

If you want straight-up industrial-Broadway Björk, without the cosmo-pop trappings, skip to “Vertebrae By Vertebrae,” which, over another dented brass loop, builds a visceral sense of foreboding.

By Emerson Dameron

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