Rock bottom is a really tough place to be at any time, let alone when you’re trying to make a career defining album.
Björk has described the lead up to making her third record, Homogenic, as being one of the lowest and most challenging times in her life.
Her rising fame due to the breakout success of Debut and its follow up Post, meant her life – including personal details, like her relationship with Goldie – was all across the tabloid press.
When harassed at Bangkok airport, she snapped and scuffled with a reporter. The death of a tragically obsessed fan led her to consider whether she would give music up altogether.
It’s no surprise then that the mood and focus of this record is heavy, emotional and introspective. Though, it’s not without light and hope. The album’s cover shows her overriding intent.
“The Homogenic character becomes like a warrior,” Björk explained in a 1997 interview. “Not a warrior with weapons but someone who wants to fight with love.”
In the face of her ascendant stardom and heightened media scrutiny, Björk used this album to embark on re-establishing a sense of identity.
“You are international, but what are you?” she said. “Are you Icelandic? Where you from? Like, roots… and there was an attempt on Homogenic to invent Icelandic modern pop music with the volcanic beats, and very over-romantic, patriotic strings.”
There was also a very deliberate effort to reconcile herself to the classical music training she grew up with and which she had rejected as a teenager.
“I left my music school when I was 15 and gave them the big [middle] finger,” she said.
“I think you look back on all the things that influenced you and you actually realise that, if you like it or not, there have been things that have influenced you and you can’t ignore them. I think the strings on Homogenic were very much about me confronting that.”
Songs like ‘Hunter’ are founded in stories Björk’s grandmother told her about two different kinds of birds. Ones that have the same nest and partner in life, like swans, and those that constantly travel and change partners throughout their lives.
Norse mythology intertwines with an Arctic eroticism on ‘All Is Full Of Love’. And ‘Joga’, named after her best friend, was also inspired by her homeland.
“I really had a sort of National Anthem in mind,” she told Record Collector in 2002. “Not the National Anthem, but certain classic Icelandic songs, very romantic, very proud.”
For the song’s shuddering beats, she drew directly from the source.
“I literally got an engineer and collected volcanic beats,” she explained.
And, in the Michel Gondry music video, there are scenes swooping and shifting restlessly over barren, striking Icelandic terrain, concluding with Björk opening her chest to reveal the island within.
“I think when you come from a place where nature can kill – I mean, you could literally not be here in a week – that sort of makes you humble and I think it’s healthy, it puts you in your place,” she told The Southbank Show.
“I think the biggest influence Iceland has had on my music is organic. This thing with 22-hour daylight in summer and darkness in winter, and icebergs and eruptions and no trees at all, is the way it should be.
“Iceland probably affected a lot how I sing because I did spend a lot of time as a kid in nature, just walking outside to school, maybe in blizzards.
“You would walk and there would be no wind and you could be all quiet and whispery, and you would sneak down next to the moss and sing a verse, then you would stand up and run to a hill and sing a chorus. You have to do that quite loudly because the weather was strong.”
The strength, character and incredible expressiveness of Björk’s voice, as well as her need to experiment sonically, are the true unifying elements.
Her third album set her on the path to explore and synthesize her inner and outer worlds, something she has carried through her many remarkable works.
Through her love of her homeland, its nature and her childhood roots, Homogenic provided her the means for respite and restoration, and in her upcoming new release she’s ready to offer resolutions. Our rapidly changing global environment has again served as a key motivation for Björk’s ninth album, tentatively titled Utopia.
“It’s a proposal of how we can live in the future with nature and technology in the most optimistic way possible,” she told Dazed recently.
“We have Trump, we have Brexit, we have our issues in Iceland, we have our environmental issues – if there was ever an urgency or necessity to come up with another utopian model, how we’re gonna live our lives, I think it’s now. And this [new album] is my proposal.”