I was one of the people lucky enough to experience Björk’s Biophilia show during the Manchester International Festival earlier this year, so I’ve been excitedly waiting for the album to come out. Even more so than I would have been anyway, as a huge fan of one of the most talented innovators in modern pop music.
The good news is that Biophilia doesn’t disappoint. In some senses, the build-up has been overshadowed by the live shows, the experimental instruments, the ginger wig, the David Attenborough narration and the smartphone/tablet apps for each song. I don’t have a smartphone or a tablet, so I’ve no idea if any of the latter are any good or add anything to the music, but I do know that when you strip away all of that and just listen to the album on its own, it’s fantastic.
And that is the important thing, Biophilia may be a multimedia project, but Björk is a musician first and foremost, and if she’d allowed the rest of it to dominate the songs, it would have been a disappointment. It’s a little bit of a shame that Attenborough’s typically warm and engaging voice is not featured, I liked it a lot in the live show, but there’s always the risk of something like that starting to grate on repeated listens.
By taking it away, there’s no danger of that happening with the ten (ok, nine) incredible tracks here. On first listen, nothing has been lost from the live performances, the magic of the tesla coils on Thunderbolt, the voices of the choir, the savage electronic beats at the end of Crystalline, they’re all still there and sound great. Björk took her time finishing the album off, saying that she wanted to carry on working on the songs after they had developed during the Festival run, and I can only assume they’re all the better for that.
Musically, Biophilia is more immediately accessible than either of her last two releases (Medulla and Volta) and is more along the lines of Vespertine. Of course, ‘accessible Björk’ doesn’t mean you’ll find anything like It’s Oh So Quiet or Play Dead, but she doesn’t let experimentation get in the way of a great song either. Cosmogony is the obvious standout here, a beautiful song that’s up there with Unravel as one of her finest, loveliest songs, but Crystalline, Thunderbolt, Virus and Mutual Core are all instant favourites too. Only Dark Matter looks like it might take time and effort to sink in.
Of course, Björk fans don’t expect her music to be easy or immediate, she’s long since transcended from her role in the 90s as ‘the quirky Icelandic pop star’ and has become a significant artist in her own right. What makes Biophilia an excellent addition to her canon isn’t the hubbub and technological accomplishments that surround it, it’s her incredible voice and talent to write amazing songs that don’t sound like anyone else. In that respect, Biophilia is ‘just’ another great Björk album.