Debut (Björk album)
|Studio album by Björk|
|Released||5 July 1993|
|Genre||Alternative dance, trip hop, house|
|Label||One Little Indian (UK)
|Producer||Nellee Hooper, Björk|
|Singles from Debut|
Debut is the second studio album by Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk. The album was released in July 1993 on One Little Indian in the United Kingdom and Elektra Records in the United States. Björk worked on the album with producer Nellee Hooper who co-wrote five of Debut's songs with her. The album mostly consists of love songs relating to subjects such as her boyfriend Dominic Thrupp, her producer Nellee Hooper and to love of life itself. Musically, the songs on this album took a different direction from her previous albums with her former band the Sugarcubes, with the backing music ranging from house, jazz and trip hop styles.
Most of the songs from Debut were written years prior to the production of the album. As well as working with Graham Massey, Björk wanted to work with jazz musicians and contacted Oliver Lake and Corky Hale to record jazz arrangements to some of the songs. After meeting producer Nellee Hooper, the two completed production on the album in 1993. On Debut's initial release, the album sold far greater than her label predicted, charting at number three in the United Kingdom and 61 in the United States. The album was certified gold in Canada and platinum in the United States.
Debut received widespread critical acclaim from British music critics, who praised Björk's vocals and the choice of a wide range of musical styles on the album. In the United States, the album received more mixed reviews, with some critics complaining about its lack of rock music.
Five singles were released from Debut: "Human Behaviour", "Venus as a Boy", "Play Dead", "Big Time Sensuality" and "Violently Happy". "Play Dead" was recorded after the album's release and was later issued as a bonus track in a few regions. All five singles charted in the United Kingdom with only "Human Behaviour", "Violently Happy" and "Big Time Sensuality" charting on dance and modern rock charts in the United States. Despite the continued praise from critics, Björk did not find Debut to be one of her best albums stating that she has made and will make better music on later works.
While still performing as the vocalist of Icelandic alternative rock group the Sugarcubes, Björk approached both Ásmundur Jónsson of Bad Taste and producer Derek Birkett of One Little Indian Records with a demo cassette of her own songs on which she had been working. These demos included versions of songs that would appear on Debut, including "The Anchor Song" and "Aeroplane". After the Sugarcubes went on hiatus, Björk moved to London, England, where she and Birkett worked on the details of what would become Debut. Many of the songs on the album were written years before Björk moved to London, including "Human Behaviour" which was written when the singer was a teenager. Björk had put aside these songs stating that "I was in punk bands and [the songs] weren't punk." Björk had already written half the songs for Debut in some form, but had nothing recorded. With no producer in line to work with, she continued to compose songs with 808 State member Graham Massey in a friend's home in Manchester where she would write songs that would be included on later albums, including "Army of Me" and "The Modern Things".
While creating more electronic based tracks with Massey, Björk developed a desire to work with a jazz producer. Wanting to work with a harpist, producer Paul Fox who had previously worked with the Sugarcubes, introduced her to jazz harpist Corky Hale. Hale was going to politely refuse to work with Björk until her stepson, who was a Sugarcubes fan, insisted that she take the job. Björk recorded a handful of jazz standards with Hale including "I Remember You" and an early version of "Like Someone in Love". Fox also introduced Björk to Oliver Lake and the pair recorded another jazz standard, "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries", with Lake's jazz group the Art Ensemble of Chicago for the John Hughes film Curly Sue. Hughes turned down the idea of the recording for the film, but it led to the idea of Debut being produced by Fox and arranged by the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Björk contracted Lake for working with some session saxophonists in London for Debut. Lake's contributions to the album are heard on tracks including "Aeroplane" and "The Anchor Song".
Björk was intending to have several producers work on the album, but this idea never came to fruition. Björk was then going to have the album produced with Paul Fox until she was introduced to producer Nellee Hooper by her boyfriend Dominic Thrupp. Hooper had previously produced albums by Soul II Soul, Sinéad O'Connor and Massive Attack, which made Björk skeptical about working with him, stating that "I thought Nellee was too 'good taste' for my liking. But then I met him, got to know him, [and] got to hear about his fabulous ideas..." Björk and Hooper's recording ideas were very similar, which led to the decision to end production work with Massey and Fox. Hooper introduced Björk to studio technology and studio programmer Marius de Vries who gave Debut a modern style with the use of keyboards and synthesizers. Hooper produced the first ten tracks on the album, while Björk co-produced "Like Someone in Love" with Hooper and produced "The Anchor Song" solely herself. Björk and Hooper spent many sessions in the studio working on Debut until the album was finished in early 1993.
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The sound of Debut takes on many musical stylistic shifts. Some of the more electronically backed dance music songs such as "Human Behaviour", "Crying", "Big Time Sensuality", "There's More to Life Than This" and "Violently Happy" have a house music sound. These songs use a backing sound with a "four-on-the-floor" house style, meaning that there is a kick on every quarter note. The other electronically backed songs have a more trip hop styled sound. These non-dance tracks have been described as having a "more delicate atmosphere". Songs such as "Venus as a Boy" are not house oriented, and make a more melodic use of vibraphone and strings. The songs "The Anchor Song", "One Day", and "Aeroplane" draw on what Björk refers to as her more "academic, clever side". "Aeroplane" is one of Debut's most musically complicated pieces with off-kilter arrangement from Oliver Lake.
The lyrics of Debut are mostly concerned with love. The love themes range from "flesh-and-blood passion" for another person to the love of life itself. "Venus as a Boy" is a song about the sensitivity of her then boyfriend Dominic Thrupp, with lyrics that have been described as "sweet and just the slightest bit naughty." "Aeroplane" is also about Thrupp, written when he was living in the United Kingdom and Björk still lived in Iceland. "There's More to Life Than This" was inspired by a party Björk attended and promptly left. "Big Time Sensuality" contains lyrics described as "simple but passionate" about Björk's relationship with her co-producer, Nellee Hooper. The New York Times described the lyrics of "Human Behaviour" as a "parallel between the beastliness of humanity and the bestiality of nature."
Debut was released on 5 July 1993 on compact disc and cassette on One Little Indian Records in the United Kingdom and 13 July 1993 on Elektra Records in the United States. One Little Indian estimated that Debut would sell a total of 40,000 copies worldwide based on a guess of the Sugarcubes fan base at the time. However, within three months of Debut's release, over 600,000 copies had been sold worldwide. On the album's initial release, it charted in the United States, peaking at number one on the Top Heatseekers chart and at number sixty-one on the Billboard 200. In the United Kingdom, Debut entered the charts on 17 July 1993, staying in the charts for sixty-nine weeks and peaking at number three. Debut has been re-issued several times in different formats. In November 1993, the album was re-issued in the United Kingdom with the bonus track "Play Dead", a song written for the film The Young Americans, shortly after Debut's completion. The album was later issued on vinyl and DualDisc formats. The Japanese version of Debut included two bonus tracks: "Play Dead" and "Atlantic". The DualDisc release featured the full album on the CD side while the DVD side included the album with superior sound quality and the music videos for the singles. On 5 May 1994, The Canadian Recording Industry Association certified that Debut had sold over 50,000 units making it a Gold record in Canada. On 31 August 2001, the RIAA certified that Debut had sold over one million units making it a Platinum record in the United States. Worldwide sales of the album stand at 4.7 million copies.
In 1993 Björk contacted French director Michel Gondry to create a music video for "Human Behaviour" after seeing a video he made for his own band Oui Oui. "Human Behaviour" was the first single taken from Debut, and was issued a month before the album's release in June 1993. Three more singles were released from Debut in 1993. "Venus as a Boy" was the second single, released in August with a music video directed by Sophie Muller. "Play Dead" was released in August 1993 as a non-album single, that would be included on later releases of the album. "Play Dead" had an accompanying music video directed by Danny Cannon. The final single released in 1993 was "Big Time Sensuality" remixed by Fluke with a music video by Stéphane Sednaoui. A further single, "Violently Happy", was released in March 1994 with an accompanying video by Jean-Baptiste Mondino. All five singles from Debut charted within the top 40 of the UK Singles Chart while only "Human Behaviour", "Violently Happy" and "Big Time Sensuality" charted in the American Billboard charts.
|The Daily Vault||B+|
|The New York Times||(favorable)|
At the 1994 Grammy Awards, Michel Gondry's music video for "Human Behavior" was nominated for best Best Short Form Music Video, but lost to Stephen Johnson's video for the Peter Gabriel song "Steam". At the 1994 Brit Awards, Björk won awards for "Best Newcomer" and "Best International Female". Shortly after the Brit Awards, Björk was sued by Simon Fisher, a musician she collaborated with in 1990. Fisher's claim stated that he had co-written "Human Behaviour", "Venus as a Boy", "Crying", and "Aeroplane" and sought damages of over ₤20,000. Hooper and Björk went to court with Fisher shortly after the release of Björk's album Post. Judge Robin Jacob found Fisher only seeking credit for one song instead of four and cleared Hooper and Björk of all charges stating that Fisher's charges rendered him "unreliable, diffuse, and vague".
Critical reaction to Debut was generally positive. The British music press spoke positively about the album, with Q giving it four out of five stars calling it "a surprising, playful collection" while the NME wrote that Debut was "an album that believes music can be magical and special." The Independent gave Debut a favorable review noting that Björk had "fashioned an amazing array of contrasting arrangements, whose musical diversity never interferes with their clarity of vision." American reception was more mixed. Musician magazine praised the vocals of the album, stating "what makes [Björk's] singing memorable isn't the odd assortment of growls, moans and chirps she relies upon, but the emotions those sounds convey." The New York Times described Debut as "an enchanting album". American critic Robert Christgau gave the album a "neither" rating, indicating an album that "may impress once or twice with consistent craft or an arresting track or two. Then it won't". A negative review came from Rolling Stone who gave the album two stars out of five calling the album "utterly disappointing" blaming producer Nellee Hooper, suggesting he "sabotaged a ferociously iconoclastic talent with a phalanx of cheap electronic gimmickry." Michele Romero of Entertainment Weekly gave the album a C, saying, "On a few songs, [Björk's] breathy mewl is a pleasant contrast to the mechanical drone of Sugarcube-like techno-tunes. But most of Debut sounds annoyingly like the monotonous plinking of a deranged music box. Wind it up if you like -- eventually it will stop." Debut rated highly in British end of year polls. The NME ranked Debut at number one on their list of "Top 50 LPs of 1993". Melody Maker placed the album at number six on their list of "Albums of the Year for 1993" calling it "a fantastic debut". In 1994, Q included the album on their list for top fifty albums of 1993. Björk reacted to the positive reviews hesitantly, stating that if she'd "delivered exactly the same album and I came from Nottingham, I'd have got completely different reviews, normal down-to-earth ones" and that Debut "was a bit of a rehearsal and it's really not that good. I can do much better."
Later reception was also positive. In Spin magazine's alternative record guide, the album received a rating of nine out of ten stating that the choice of Nellee Hooper as producer was a "stroke of genius" and Björk's vocals were "awe-inspiring". Heather Phares of AllMusic gave the album a five-star rating, stating that Debut is "Possibly her prettiest work, Björk's horizons expanded on her other releases, but the album still sounds fresh, which is even more impressive considering electronic music's whiplash-speed innovations." In 1999, Q placed Debut in their list of "90 Best Albums of the 1990s". In 2010, it appeared in Spin's 125 Best Albums of the Past 25 Years list, at number 33. In 2011, Slant Magazine placed the album at number 29 on their list of the best albums of the 1990s, claiming that "Debut was enough to cement her [Bjork's] legacy as one of pop's most forward-thinking performers."
In 2005, Björk stated that she thought the album wasn't as strong as her later efforts: "It's hard to judge yourself but I don't think [the early albums are] my best. Debut was the album that went the highest up there in terms of what is 'Björk music'. But I think that the persona I created, which was entirely accidental, is better captured on the later albums."
|1.||"Human Behaviour"||Björk, Nellee Hooper||Nellee Hooper||4:10|
|3.||"Venus as a Boy"||Hooper||4:42|
|4.||"There's More to Life Than This" (recorded live in the toilets of the Milk Bar clubnight, London, UK)||Björk, Hooper||Hooper||3:21|
|5.||"Like Someone in Love"||Johnny Burke, James Van Heusen||Björk, Hooper||4:33|
|6.||"Big Time Sensuality"||Björk, Hooper||Hooper||3:57|
|9.||"Come to Me"||Hooper||4:55|
|10.||"Violently Happy"||Björk, Hooper||Hooper||4:59|
|11.||"The Anchor Song"||Bjork||3:32|
|International bonus tracks|
|12.||"Play Dead"||Björk, David Arnold, Jah Wobble||3:56|
|Japan bonus tracks|
|13.||"Play Dead"||Björk, David Arnold, Jah Wobble||3:58|
Charts and certifications
|UK||US Hot 100||US Hot Dance Club Songs||US Hot Dance Singles Sales||US Modern Rock Tracks|
|"Venus as a Boy"||29||—||—||—||—|
|"Big Time Sensuality"||17||88||1||19||5|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart.|
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...what makes her singing memorable isn't the odd assortment of growls, moans and chirps she relies upon, but the emotions those sounds convey...
- NME: 35. 3 July 1993.
9 – Excellent Plus – "...an album that believes music can be magical and special...."
- Q: 85. July 1993.
...Bjork Gudmundsdottir's voice was undoubtedly the jewel in the Sugarcubes' crown and in the relatively sparse setting of this solo debut she reclaims all her old wit and joissance....a surprising, playful collection...
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Ranked No.1 in New Musical Express' list of the `Top 50 LPs Of 1993' – "DEBUT is a musical treasure chest of organic techno beats, twinkly jazz serenades and otherworldly nursery rhymes, disregarding categories and [displaying] a bewitching faith in pop's ability to challenge..."
- Melody Maker: 76. 1 January 1994.
Ranked No.6 in Melody Maker's list of 'Albums of the Year' for 1993 – "a fantastic Debut"
- Q: 85. January 1994.
Included in Q's list of `The 50 Best Albums of 1993' – "...an album of tantalising contrasts....manages to be bubbly, exhilarating, brazenly dance-oriented and satisfying all at once..."
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