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Homogenic

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Homogenic
A picture of the album cover depicting a silver background with Björk standing facing forward in the middle. Björk is dressed in a outfit resembling a Kimono wearing large rings around her neck, silver fingernails and a large bun shaped hair style on each side of her head.
Studio album by Björk
Released 22 September 1997 (1997-09-22)
Recorded August 1996–August 1997
Studio El Cortijo, Málaga, Spain
Genre
Length 43:35
Label
Producer
Björk chronology
Telegram
(1996)Telegram1996
Homogenic
(1997)
Selmasongs
(2000)Selmasongs2000
Singles from Homogenic
  1. "Jóga"
    Released: 15 September 1997[6]
  2. "Bachelorette"
    Released: 8 December 1997
  3. "Hunter"
    Released: 5 October 1998[7]
  4. "Alarm Call"
    Released: 30 November 1998
  5. "All Is Full of Love"
    Released: 7 June 1999

Homogenic is the third studio album by Icelandic recording artist Björk.[nb 1] It was released on 22 September 1997 in the United Kingdom by One Little Indian Records and in the United States by Elektra Records. Produced by Björk, Mark Bell, Guy Sigsworth, Howie B, and Markus Dravs, the album marked the beginning a new style for the singer, focusing on similar-sounding music combining electronic beats and string instruments with songs in tribute to her native country Iceland. Homogenic was originally to be produced in her home in London, but was later recorded in Spain. It marked the first of several production collaborations between Björk and Mark Bell, whom she would cite as a major influence on her musical career.

Homogenic topped Iceland's official albums chart, and peaked at number 28 on the US Billboard 200 and number 4 on the UK Albums Chart.[10] It was highly acclaimed on its initial release and continues to be praised by critics, with Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine stating that "if not the greatest electronic album of all time, it's certainly the greatest of its decade".[2] Five singles were released from Homogenic: "Jóga", "Bachelorette", "Hunter", "Alarm Call", and "All Is Full of Love".

Production[edit]

Maida Vale sessions[edit]

After an extensive tour in 1996, Björk returned to her home in Maida Vale with an urgent need to write new songs as a form of therapy.[11] Björk would let audio engineer Markus Dravs into her home studio to start creating new songs. Björk wanted to create an album with "a simple sound" and "only one flavour".[11] The album began with the working title of Homogeneous, but Björk changed it to Homogenic shortly afterwards.[11]

The sessions with Dravs and Björk were casual, with Björk allowing Dravs freedom with the album. Björk only left the studio to cook meals for the both of them.[12] One of the first songs created during the sessions was "5 Years" which Dravs created the fast beat for.[12] The progress of Homogenic in these sessions was halted due to a media sensation caused by the suicide of Björk's stalker Ricardo López.[13][14] To deal with the stress of being at home during this incident, Björk imagined herself as the protagonist in a Spanish soap opera.[14] The character's image inspired a song titled "So Broken" which she sang to herself in her kitchen.[14] The song was later included on the Japanese import of the album.[15]

Málaga sessions[edit]

To record in privacy away from the sudden unwanted media interest, Björk's tour drummer Trevor Morais offered his studio in Spain. Björk went to Málaga and arranged to meet with flamenco guitarist Raimundo Amador.[14] Björk had originally intended to stay in Málaga only briefly, but later decided to record the entirety of Homogenic there.[14] Björk made a final trip out of the country before staying in Spain. As she had done since moving to London, Björk returned to Iceland for Christmas.[14] While there, she wrote more new songs for Homogenic, including "Jóga".[16] Before returning to Spain to record, Björk was sidetracked by a two-week worldwide press tour for the promotion of her remix album Telegram, which had just been released.[17]

After returning to the studio in Spain in late January, Björk decided to end work with producer Nellee Hooper, who had produced both Debut and Post, as she felt they had "stopped surprising each other".[18][19][20] Björk had intended to produce the album alone, but sought collaborators including Dravs, Howie B, Guy Sigsworth and LFO's Mark Bell.[18] Howie B had worked with Björk on Debut and Post and Sigsworth had played harpsichord on Post.[19][20] The American hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan almost contributed to the production of Homogenic, but were unable due to their production on the album Wu-Tang Forever, which had taken longer than planned.[18] Most of the melodies on the album were created by Björk, who then composed string sections on a Casio keyboard and brought them to programmers who would add rhythmic patterns.[21] Björk had wanted to have Mark Bell contribute to her albums Debut and Post;[22] Bell was credited for the majority of the album's production, including the songs "Pluto", "Alarm Call", and the bassline in "Jóga". Björk stated that she "trusts and respects what [Bell] does for me. If I were to say who has influenced me most it would be Stockhausen, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Mark Bell".[18] Other unorthodox methods of recording were used during the production, including Björk wanting to record outside on the porch and using non-professionals to help with production, such as Rebecca Storey, who was hired as a babysitter but added to the production staff after showing interest in the equipment.[23][24]

String arrangements were added late in the recording process.[24] Björk had friend Eumir Deodato conduct, transcribe and compose original pieces for the few songs that Björk did not arrange for herself.[24] To keep with the Icelandic theme of the album, Björk ordered the services of the Icelandic String Octet.[24] By June 1997, the album was behind schedule and Björk was uncertain of the final track listing and unhappy with some of the recorded vocals.[25]

Composition[edit]

Before production began on Homogenic, Björk wanted to create an album with "a simple sound" and "only one flavour".[11] Heather Phares of AllMusic described the sound of Homogenic as a "fusion of chilly strings (courtesy of the Icelandic String Octet), stuttering, abstract beats, and unique touches like accordion and glass harmonica".[26] The album differs from her previous two releases stylistically, and Neva Chonin of Rolling Stone stated the album was "certain to be rough going for fans looking for the sweet melodies and peppy dance collages of her earlier releases".[27] As with other Björk releases, it has been difficult for critics to classify Homogenic within a musical genre. Tiny Mix Tapes considered that "Björk has managed to create something so refreshingly unique that trying to categorize and label the music is rather dubious."[5] Writing for Beats Per Minute, Cole Zercoe felt Homogenic represented a pinnacle work of trip hop, forming part of "a sort of holy trinity of this musical aesthetic" along with Massive Attack's Mezzanine and Portishead's Dummy.[3]

Björk wanted Homogenic to have a conceptual focus on her native Iceland. Producer Markus Dravs recalled Björk wanting it to sound like "rough volcanoes with soft moss growing all over it..."[11] In an interview for Oor, Björk explained that "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 colouring."[28][29]

Björk's vocals on Homogenic range from primitive-sounding screams to a traditional singing method used by Icelandic choir men, a combination of speaking and singing as illustrated in the song "Unravel".[30][31] The majority of songs on Homogenic have lyrics about love and failed relationships. The song "Jóga" was written as a tribute to her best friend and tour masseuse of the same name.[16] Björk called "All is Full of Love" a song about "believing in love" and that "Love isn't just about two persons. It's everywhere around you".[32] "All Neon Like" contains snippets of a poem Björk wrote called "Techno Prayer" in 1996. The song "5 Years" appeared in live form a few weeks after her breakup with musician Tricky and music journalists considered it a response to it.[26][33] "Bachelorette" was originally written for director Bernardo Bertolucci for his film Stealing Beauty.[34] Björk later faxed Bertolucci, informing him the song would be used for her album instead.[34] "Bachelorette" and "Jóga" were written with Icelandic poet Sjón, because Björk wanted to use epic lyrics.[34][35] "Immature" was written about mistakes in past relationships, shortly after the breakup with Goldie.[36] Björk described "Pluto" as about "being plastered, that need to destroy everything so you can start again".[37] "Unravel" is a song about lamenting love, with brief flashes of hope.[38]

Release[edit]

The album cover for Homogenic was produced by close friend Alexander McQueen (pictured), who also directed the music video for "Alarm Call".

The album was released later than One Little Indian Records had intended. Björk was behind schedule and the album's cover design by Nick Knight needed a reshoot.[25] Towards the end of August 1997, One Little Indian delayed the album by a month.[25] Homogenic was released on 22 September 1997 on One Little Indian in the United Kingdom and on September 23 Elektra Records in North America on compact disc and cassette.[26][39][40][41] The album was later issued on vinyl and DualDisc formats.[26] The Japanese version of Homogenic included several bonus tracks and remixed versions of songs.[15] The DualDisc release featured the full album on the CD side and the DVD side included the album with superior sound quality and the music videos for the singles.[42]

On the album's initial release, it charted in the United States on 11 October 1997, and stayed in the charts for nine weeks peaking at number 28.[43] Homogenic entered the charts in Canada for one week at number 20.[43][44] In the United Kingdom, Homogenic entered the charts on 4 October 1997, stayed in the charts for thirteen weeks and peaked at number four.[45] Of the ten songs on Homogenic, five were released as singles. A music video for "Jóga" directed by Michel Gondry was filmed in the middle of 1997 and was the first single for the album.[46][47] "Bachelorette" was released in December 1997 with another music video directed by Gondry.[47] In 1998, two singles were released: "Hunter", which had a music video directed by Paul White, and "Alarm Call", which had a video directed by Alexander McQueen.[47] The final single from Homogenic was "All Is Full of Love", released in 1999 with a music video directed by Chris Cunningham.[47] "Jóga" was the only single to not chart in the United Kingdom and "All Is Full of Love" was the only single to chart in the United States, peaking at number eight the Hot Dance Singles Sales chart.[45][48] In Canada, the Canadian Recording Industry Association certified Homogenic as a gold record on 12 June 1998, and in the United States the RIAA certified the album as Gold on 31 August 2001.[49][50]

Artwork[edit]

The themes of the album are reflected in the album cover designed by Alexander McQueen.[51] Björk approached McQueen explaining to him the person who wrote Homogenic's songs was someone who "had to become a warrior. A warrior who had to fight not with weapons, but with love. I had 10 kilos of hair on my head, and special contact lenses and a manicure that prevented me from eating with my fingers, and gaffer tape around my waist and high clogs so I couldn't walk easily".[51]

Tour[edit]

A photo of Björk on stage dressed in white singing into a hand held microphone.
Björk performing at Ruisrock, Turku, Finland on 28 June 1998.[52]

When the release of Homogenic was delayed by a month, its tour began with the audience not being familiar with the album's songs since it had not been released yet.[25] The tour started at the beginning of September with a backing band that consisted only of Mark Bell and made stops in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Spain, and England. These shows were brief live shows lasting about half an hour consisting of only new material.[25] Another tour took place in late October and lasted less than four weeks. Stops on this tour included Italy, Switzerland, France, England, Scotland, Germany, Ireland, and Denmark.[53] In late November, Björk was diagnosed with a kidney infection and while she was still healthy she was advised to take a three-week rest and was forced to cancel her American tour.[53] In 1998, a North American tour with Radiohead was announced but canceled later due to difficulty of changing the stage between performances of the acts.[54] Björk had another tour in the middle of 1998 through Europe, and outside of the continent through other countries, including Chile, Brazil and Argentina.[54] Opening acts for portions of the tour included electronic musician µ-Ziq.[55]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic5/5 stars[26]
Chicago Tribune3.5/4 stars[56]
Entertainment WeeklyA[57]
The Guardian4/5 stars[58]
Los Angeles Times3.5/4 stars[59]
NME9/10[60]
Pitchfork10/10[10]
Rolling Stone4/5 stars[27]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4.5/5 stars[61]
Spin9/10[4]

Homogenic has been met with unanimous critical acclaim since its initial release, winning multiple awards, as well as being placed on several "best of" charts. The album was nominated in the Best Alternative Music Performance category at the 1998 Grammy Awards, losing to Radiohead's OK Computer.[62][63] Michel Gondry's music video for "Bachelorette" was nominated for best Best Short Form Music Video at the 1999 Grammy Awards, but lost to Jonas Åkerlund's video for the Madonna song "Ray of Light".[64][65] Homogenic landed Björk the award for Best International Female at the BRIT Awards where she accepted the award stating "I am grateful grapefruit".[54]

Initial critical reception was very positive. David Browne of Entertainment Weekly stated that "Homogenic could have been stuffy and dull — Sting with a sex-change operation. It's a testament to Bjork's continued weirdness that even overtures toward adulthood come out delightfully skewed".[57] Neva Chonin of Rolling Stone cited it as "one of the boldest – and most exciting – albums of the year".[27] NME's Ted Kessler praised Homogenic as Björk's best album and "her most emotional, highly charged and groovy record, as well as a stinging triumph for the spirit of adventure."[60] Heather Phares of AllMusic cited the album as being more emotionally deep than any of Björk's previous work and called it a "seamless fusion of chilly strings, stuttering, abstract beats, and unique touches like an accordion and glass harmonica."[26]

A more negative review came from Stephen Thompson of The A.V. Club, who said "Homogenic is stylish enough, and it's as restlessly creative as you'd expect, but the album rarely gives Björk's songs a chance to assert themselves".[66]

Commercial performance[edit]

The album debuted at number six on the Australian Albums Chart on 12 October 1997.[67] The album descended to number 45 after five weeks in the chart. Homogenic debuted at number eight on the New Zealand Albums Chart on 12 October 1997.[68] The album peaked at number six on 19 October 1997, but descended after six weeks on the chart.[68]

The album was released in North America digitally on 3 August 2004.[69] The album debuted at number twenty-eight on the Billboard 200. The stayed a total of nine weeks inside the top 200, where its last position was at number 164.[70] The album was certified gold on 1 August 2001 by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments of 500,000 copies.[71] The album debuted at twenty on the Canadian Albums Chart, becoming Björk's first album to chart on the Canada Billboard chart and spent a sole week there.[70] The album was certified gold by the Canadian Music Industry on 12 June 1998.[72]

Legacy[edit]

American critics rated Homogenic highly in end of the year polls. In Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll of 1997, the album placed at number nine.[73] Spin ranked the album at number four on their list of "Top 20 Albums of the Year".[74] British critics listed the album in similar polls, with Melody Maker ranking the album at number thirty-three on their list of "Albums of the Year" and NME placed the album at number fifteen in its Critics' Poll.[75][76] Later reception to the album has also been generally positive. Philip Sherburne of the music webzine Pitchfork gave Homogenic a 10 out of 10 rating, stating "it showcased a newly focused side of the musician while embracing all of her most provocative contradictions."[10] In 2002, Homogenic placed at number ten on Slant Magazine's list of "The Greatest Electronic Albums of the 20th Century".[77] In 2003, Homogenic placed on number 21 on Pitchfork's list of the top one hundred albums of the 1990s, claiming it as "one of the most perfectly formed records of any era, and it is entirely possible that Björk will never approach this level of consistently enrapturing beauty again".[78] In 2007, Slant Magazine gave the highest possible rating of five out of five stars, describing the album as "gorgeous and evocative" and praising it as one of the best albums of the 1990s.[2] In a career retrospective in 2007, Spin gave the album five out of five stars.[79] In 2011, Slant Magazine placed the album at number one on their list of best albums of the 1990s.[80] According to Tiny Mix Tapes, Homogenic is "one of the most groundbreaking albums of all-time, an album that assuredly caused countless hearts to soar." In an interview with Spin magazine, Radiohead singer Thom Yorke called the song "Unravel", "one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard."[81] The band would cover the song as part of a 2007 live webcast.[82]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks written by Björk[26][39] and produced by Björk and Mark Bell,[83] except where noted.

No.TitleLength
1."Hunter"4:11
2."Jóga" (writers: Björk, Sjón)5:02
3."Unravel" (writers: Björk, Guy Sigsworth; producers: Björk, Sigsworth)3:25
4."Bachelorette" (writers: Björk, Sjón; producer: Björk)5:16
5."All Neon Like"6:01
6."5 Years"4:31
7."Immature" (Mark Bell's version; producer: Bell)3:09
8."Alarm Call"4:25
9."Pluto" (writers: Björk, Bell)3:25
10."All Is Full of Love" (Howie B's version; producer: Howie B)4:29

Personnel[edit]

Musicians[edit]

Production[edit]

  • Björk – arranger, programming, producer
  • Howie B – programming, producer, mixing
  • Mark Bell – programming, producer, drum programming, crew
  • Danny Joe Brown Band – programming, mixing assistant
  • Richard Brown – programming
  • Kirsten Cowie – mixing assistant, assistant
  • Eumir Deodato – arranger, orchestration, transcription
  • Marius de Vries – programming
  • Markus Dravs – programming, producer, engineer, drum programming, crew
  • Katy England – stylist
  • Jason Groucott – mixing assistant, assistant
  • Nick Knight – photography
  • James Loughrey – mixing assistant, assistant
  • Alexander McQueen – art direction
  • Sie Medway-Smith – mixing assistant, assistant
  • Rob Murphy – mixing assistant, assistant
  • Russel Polden – mixing assistant, assistant
  • Steve Price – engineer
  • Guy Sigsworth – producer
  • Tony Stanton – copyist
  • Mark "Spike" Stent – mixing, crew
  • Rebecca Storey – mixing assistant, assistant
  • Paul Walton – mixing assistant
  • Jason Westbrook – mixing assistant, assistant

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Canada (Music Canada)[97] Gold 50,000^
France (SNEP) N/A 505,900 [98]
Japan (Oricon Charts) 49,580[99]
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[100] Gold 25,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[101] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[102] Gold 501,000[103]
Summaries
Europe (IFPI)[104] Platinum 1,000,000*

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Homogenic is officially considered to be the third solo album,[8][9] although technically it can be viewed as fourth if to count her 1977 juvenilia work, or fifth, counting in her 1990 jazz output Gling-Gló.

References[edit]

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