Song of the Day: War in Music (Day Six). “What If I Take My Problem to the United Nations?”

For her eighth studio album, Let England Shake (2011), PJ Harvey looked to war for inspiration and in particular, the war in Afghanistan, which Britain was heavily involved in at the time of the album’s writing and recording.  Harvey also took inspiration from past conflicts, most notably the two World Wars.  Of the album’s subject matter, Harvey told Uncut Magazine in January 2015:  “I’ve always felt that I’m affected by the world, by the way we treat each other, by the way different countries treat each other”.

Let England Shake was not the first time that Harvey had spoken about war in her music.  On her 1996 album with John Parish, who also collaborated on Let England Shake, Dance Hall at Louse Point (credited to John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey), she included the song Civil War Correspondent.

At this point in time, Harvey never explained her lyrics and they were, more so than ever, left open to broad interpretation.  One could assume that the civil war mentioned in the song is the 1992 – 1996 Afghan Civil War, a phase of the war in Afghanistan which had been raging since 27th April 1978.  The war in Afghanistan had started when the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) took power in a military coup, known as the Saur Revolution.  Most of Afghanistan subsequently experienced uprisings against the PDFA government.

In December 1979, the Soviet War in Afghanistan began with the aim of replacing the existing communist government.  The mujahideen, Afghanistan’s resistance forces, fought against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  Some factions received support from the US, with the Pakistani ISI serving as the US middleman, and Saudi Arabia.  The Soviet Union withdrew its troops from Afghanistan in February 1989.  The Soviet-backed Afghan communist government survived for three more years until the fall of Kabul in 1992.

In 1992, Afghan political parties agreed on the Peshawar Accords, a peace and power-sharing agreement which established the post-communist Islamic State of Afghanistan after the resignation of communist President Mohammad Najibullah and appointed an interim government.  Militia leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar opposed the agreement and with Pakistani support started a bombardment campaign against Kabul, signalling the beginning of the 1992 – 1996 Afghan Civil War.  In addition, three militias who had been able to occupy some suburbs of Kabul engaged in a violent war against each other.  Other than Kabul, other cities to witness violent fighting included Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar.

Despite these assumptions that the civil war of which Harvey speaks in Civil War Correspondent is probably the Afghan Civil War, it is left open to interpretation.  Therefore, the narrator of the song could easily be a correspondent in any war, making the song a stark reminder that all war is the same:  Each war has its casualties and its devastating effects on those involved, whether on the frontline or witnessing the atrocities from a journalist standpoint.  “Word leave my heart dry, Words can’t save life, Love has no place here, No joy, no tears” sings Harvey emotionally on the song.  Perhaps the correspondent is actually Harvey herself as opposed to a media correspondent, a songwriter attempting to put into words what she sees through the media.  “I shout but he don’t hear, Just put down the page, Darling spare me your tears, Dear God please send me the light of day, I can feel his, Heart wired, Heart like, Gunfire …” continues Harvey in the guise of a war correspondent watching a soldier losing hope in the face of the brutality he is facing.  By the end of Civil War Correspondent, the soldier’s mind and spirit has been consumed by the war and he cannot escape the gunfire anymore than he can escape his own heartbeat.

On her 2000 album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, Harvey had been inspired by her love of New York City.  Take for example, Good Fortune, with its references to China Town, “In China Town, hung-over, you showed me just what I could do” and Little Italy,  “When we walked through Little Italy, I saw my reflection come right off your face”.

Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea also includes the highly prophetic song One Line, which includes the lyrics, “I’m watching from the wall, As in the streets we fight, This World all gone to war, All I need is you tonight”.

Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea won the Mercury Music Prize, the ceremony for which was held on September 11th, 2001, the infamous day as the terrorist attacks on the USA.  Harvey was in Washington DC and had witnessed the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon from her hotel room window.  When she was announced as the winner, she made her acceptance speech by telephone, saying, “It has been a very surreal day.  All I can say is thank you very much, I am absolutely stunned”.

Following the September 11 attacks, the USA announced its War on Terror, a term coined by President George W. Bush.  The USA, backed by its close allies, including Britain, invaded Afghanistan.  The war followed the Afghan Civil War phase (1996 – 2001) and public aims were to dismantle al-Qaeda and deny it a safe base in operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power.

Additonally, in 2003, the USA, with assistance from the United Kingdom, invaded Iraq, signalling the start of the Iraq War, which aimed to and succeeded in toppling the government of Saddam Hussein.  The conflict continued for much of the next decade as an insurgency emerged to oppose the occupying forces and the post-invasion Iraq government.  The USA and United Kingdom officially withdrew from the country in the 2011, the year of Let England Shake’s release but the insurgency and various dimensions of the civil armed conflict still continue.

After witnessing the horror of the September 11 attacks which sparked off the Afghanistan War firsthand, it is no wonder that Harvey would at some point in her career feel compelled to compose more songs pertaining to war, this time using the subject of war to create a concept album.  Harvey began writing the lyrics for the album before setting the words to music.  She has cited the poetry of Harold Pinter and T.S. Eliot as influences, as well as the artwork of Salvador Dali and Francisco de Goya and the music of The Doors, The Pogues and The Velvet Underground.  She also researched the history of conflict, including the Gallipoli Campaign, and read modern-day testimonies from civilians and soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of the musical content on Let England Shake, Harvey makes full use of the autoharp which she began to play in concert some years prior to working on the album.  She told local newspaper Bridport News in 2001:  “I was really enjoying this different, enormous, wide breath of sound that the autoharp gives.  It’s quite a delicate sound, but it’s also like having an entire orchestra at your fingertips.  I began by writing quite a lot on the autoharp, and then slowly as time went by, (because this album was written over two and a half years) … my writing started moving into experimenting with different guitars, and using different sound applications, ones that I had never really experimented with”.

In order to tell the tales of war which make up Let England Shake, Harvey adopted a very different vocal style to that used on previous works.  Harvey commented in her 2011 interview with Bridport News that “I couldn’t sing [the songs] in a rich mature voice without it sounding completely wrong.  So I had to slowly find the voice, and this voice started to develop, almost taking on the role of a narrator”.

Let England Shake is a wonderfully executed suite of war-inspired songs.  The title of the album and its opening track can be interpreted in two ways with respect to the two different periods of time which inspired the songs.  Firstly the opening line of the title track, “The West’s asleep, let England shake” refers to the past, before World War One, when England appeared to be a perfect epoch for peace and prosperity.  The Western world was asleep, overconfident in its own power, economy and technological development.  The brutality of both World Wars proved the opposite and England was one of the countries which suffered the cruel and tragic consequences.  Secondly, the same line also refers to the present, where we find Harvey pondering as to whether England is now, once again, overconfident and whether the Western world is, once again, on the brink of collapse.  Therefore, based on historical evidence, England will, indeed shake again.  Interestingly, shortly after the release of Let England Shake, a series of riots occurred across England, breaking the deceptive state of calm.

Additionally, Let England Shake features the lines “I fear our blood won’t rise again, Won’t rise again”, an observation about death.  In this line, Harvey is saying that if our blood doesn’t rise again, from the graves that contain our corpses, then there is no hope.  The line also poses an attack against the teachings of Christianity, which has justified the most horrendous actions against humanity throughout history, such as Crusades, Inquisition, paedophile networks and torture practices.  Christianity states that we are going to be saved by Jesus after death and this life is not a real one, for only in resurrection will we be reunited with divinity and eternal life.

Further into the album, we find the song This Glorious Land, the third track and the second single to be taken from the album.  The lyrics of This Glorious Land refer to the military and the ongoing Afghan War, told from the perspective of the locals in a country invaded by England and America (“Oh, America, Oh, England”).  The song tells of how such interventionism often exploits those being invaded, removing their culture and ability to be a contender in the world economy:  “How is our glorious country ploughed, Not by iron plows, Our land is plowed by tanks and feet, Feet, Marching”.   The people of the invaded country are also often forced to exploit their own children in order to survive.  The lyrics in the final refrain allude to the disastrous effects of war:  “What is the glorious fruit of our land?  The fruit is deformed children, What is the glorious fruit of our land?  The fruit is orphaned children”.   Whilst the song was primarily inspired by the conflict in Afghanistan, it could also refer to the bombing of Japan by America and Britain during the Second World War.

The fourth track on the album and its first single, The Words That Maketh Murder, is also about the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan as well as the World Wars, the First World War in particular.  The lyrics also criticise diplomacy, particularly in the final refrain, “What if I take my problems to the United Nations?”  which, with dark humour, finds the subject of the song, who has experienced the unimaginable whilst involved in the conflict such as “soldiers fall[ing] like lumps of meat”, looking to the international peacekeeping body for help.  The refrain is based on a lyric from Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues (1958), where he sings, “I’m gonna take my problems to the United Nations”.

The reference to the United Nations places the song’s setting in the modern day, i.e. the Afghanistan War, as opposed to the First World War, as the United Nations did not exist until 1945.  The League of Nations, the United Nations predecessor, was regarded as powerless and content to allow the strong to bully the weak and, two decades after the First World War, failed to stop the outbreak of the Second World War.  The United Nations has been slightly more successful but has also often ignored, as recently as the Invasion of Iraq by the US and Britain.

In the lead up to the catchy and beautifully conceived refrain, Harvey paints a bleak picture of battlefield carnage.  “I’ve seen and done things I want to forget, I’ve seen soldiers falling like lumps of meat, Blown and shot out beyond belief, Arms and legs were in the trees”.  The lyric “Longing to see a woman’s face” finds the subject of the song missing the comforts of home, perhaps his wife or just female company.  “Instead of words that gather pace” is likely to refer to the Treaties and threats that tipped Europe into the First World War in 1914.  After the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand is Sarajevo, all of the world’s major powers were pulled into the First World War one by one.

The chorus of the song, “The words that maketh murder, These, these, these are the words, The words that maketh murder …” are a further attack on the diplomacy which surrounds war.  By referring to war tribunals as “The words that maketh murder”, Harvey is discussing the way in which killing on the battlefield is seen as legitimate but when investigated by war tribunals, it can be classified as a war crime.  Whilst the work that the soldiers carry out is important, killing, regardless of circumstances, is still murder.

Following the first chorus, we find the line “I’ve seen a corporal whose nerves were shot”, a reference to Post Traumatic Stress (shell-shock), which is a common ailment suffered by soldiers who have fought in wars.  The line “I’ve seen flies swarming everyone” and later lines “Death lingering stunk, Flies swarming everyone, Over the whole summit peak, Flesh quivering in the heat” refer to the way in which war was often conducted in extremely unsanitary conditions and disease was as big a threat to the soldiers’ survival as the opposing side.  The repetition of lyrics about soldiers falling is most likely an expression of shell-shock related flashbacks.

The video for The Words That Maketh Murder’s single release in January 2011 was directed by Seamus Murphy, who also created videos for the other eleven tracks on Let England Shake.  Harvey contacted Murphy after seeing his “A Darkness Visible:  Afghanistan” exhibition in London in 2008.  In her interview with Bridport News, she said that she “wanted to speak to him more about his experiences being there in Afghanistan”.  After an initial meeting, a collaboration grew with Murphy taking charge of promotional photographs for the film in July 2010 and completing the promotional videos in January 2011.  The resulting videos were screened at various UK festivals between the 14th and 17th July 2011 and released on the DVD Let England Shake:  12 Short Films by Seamus Murphy on the 12th December 2011.

The video for The Words That Maketh Murder features Harvey practicing the song on the autoharp.  The opening scene features lights shining through a car windshield, followed by imagery of warfare such as a soldier walking through an open field.  Later in the video, the soldier is shown dead in the middle of the road during the lyric “I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat”.  Additionally, the video shows soldiers dressed in formal uniform and children playing a war-related video game.  Other scenes show a funfair and slips from a rock concert as well as a ballroom scene filmed in Blackpool, a still from which was used as the single’s artwork.

Let England Shake was named Album of the Year in no less than 16 different publications, including Uncut, Mojo, NME and The Guardian.  In September 2011, ten years after winning the Mercury Music prize for Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, she won the Mercury Music Prize for Let England Shake.  This win marked the first time in the award’s history that it had been awarded to the same artist twice.

Album Review: Belle and Sebastian ‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’.

Are you sitting comfortably?  Then we’ll begin.  Mr Murdoch is here to read us a story.  It’s a tale of love, relationships, imagined everyday characters of Glasgow … you get the general idea … but also war, peace, politics and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance begins with Nobody’s Empire, possibly the most personal song Belle and Sebastian have recorded, describing singer Stuart Murdoch’s long battle with chronic fatigue syndrome.  The almost nursery rhyme styling of the lyric phrasing reminds the listener of the Belle and Sebastian of old, being something that added a certain innocent charm to the band’s music.  The band were only too aware of this innocent quality, a quality which, in no small part, led the band to be tagged as ‘twee’ by the music press.  It was no surprise that the band addressed their nursery rhyme stylings on a song called Belle and Sebastian Sing Songs For Children, a song tagged onto the end of their 3,6, 9 Seconds of Light EP (1997) following the stunning Put the Book Back on the Shelf.

Here, we find Belle and Sebastian using the idea of war, a dominant theme on the album, as a metaphor for inner war.  Following Nobody’s Empire is Allie, in which Murdoch discusses actual war.  This isn’t the first time the band have done so, the opening track of Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (2000), I Fought in A War was a fictionalised account of a soldier remembering his time in the war.  However, on Allie, Murdoch now discusses world issues through the eyes of dreamers who are still saying prayers “to the soon to be closing library” with lines such as “When there’s bombs in the Middle East, You want to hurt yourself”.  It seems that the band’s foray in politics, coming out in support of the Scotland Yes Campaign, has left an indelible mark on them.

What follows though is even more surprising for a band that were once Gregory’s Girl put to music.  I reference here the wry wit of songs such as Lazy Line Painter Jane, from the 1997 EP of the same title, which included such marvellous lines as “You are in two minds, Tossing a coin to decide whether you should tell your Mum, About a dose of thrush you got whilst licking railings”.  The Party Line, the first single from Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is (shock, horror) a disco song.  And this, from here on in, is where the album becomes a slightly scatterbrain affair.  This scatterbrained approach has been something evident on Belle and Sebastian albums in the past.  Take for example, the at times wonderful but slightly unsure of itself The Life Persuit (2006).  However, this can be seen as an endearing quality which can go hand in hand with the tales of the insecure characters within some of Belle and Sebastian’s songs.  Take for example, The “mousy girl on the end pew” in Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie (from the 3, 6, 9 Seconds of Light EP) or the girl in Expectations (from 1996’s debut album Tigermilk who is asked, “Do you want to work in C&A ‘cause that’s what they expect, Move to laundry and take a feel off Joe the Storeman”.  The Party Line isn’t the band’s first attempt at disco.  On Tigermilk, we find Electronic Renaissance, a song which is the forefather of the Europop disco that we find on some songs on this album.  The Party Line is filled with pulsating 70’s disco beats whilst still keeping the indie sensibility that the band is famed for.  However, some of the magic has been taken away.  Perhaps this is as a result of working with outside producers such as Trevor Horn on the slick, but sometimes too slick, Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003).  On first listen, I wasn’t too sure about the disco direction on The Party Line and other similarly disco-influenced songs on the album, but after several listens, I am able to strip away the glossy synth-led sound and be left with what we know and love about Belle and Sebastian:  their ability to write great poetry.  Take, for example, the lines “I want to be the Queen, Pulling kids out of rivers” in The Cat with the Cream.

The Power of Three continues the disco Europop theme introduced on The Party Line.  The Power of Three could easily be a Saint Etienne song, which, whilst not what we have come to expect from Belle and Sebastian, is no bad thing and I would say it is one of the stand out tracks on the album.  For enthusiasts of the old Belle and Sebastian, look no further than tracks such as The Cat with the Cream and Ever Had A Little Faith? which was actually written before their debut album.  The inclusion of these songs means that this is an album with something for everybody, including those still longing for the Belle and Sebastian of old and those who are finding Belle and Sebastian for the first time.  The Cat with the Cream continues the war theme first introduced with the album’s opening two tracks, with lines such as “In the days of old when knights were bold, They’d settle it with sword and shield”.  I began to notice a pattern here.  For the most part, the slower paced songs, mainly those without the dance influence, are the war themed songs and the dance style tracks allow the band to experiment with other subject matter.  This is Belle and Sebastian’s War and Peace.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that the album is called Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, as this is an album of two halves, half war stories and half explorations into the clubs which the band may have once deemed themselves too square and nerdy to walk into.

Enter Sylvia Plath reintroduces the disco-orientated sound but this is where Belle and Sebastian could be beginning to nail their new direction.  To a backdrop of music which sounds a cross between Pet Shop Boys and Visage’s Fade to Grey, this is a near seven minute song which combines both old school Belle and Sebastian and the new direction which the album attempts to veer in.

As the first half of the album closes, and notice on the back of the sleeve the way in which the tracklisting is split into two halves (yes, this is a band who still believe in a record having two sides and we love them for it), I am still not sure what to make of it.  However, my concerns are laid to rest with The Everlasting Muse, a highly inventive song about being a musician (“A subtle gift to modern rock, She said ‘Be popular play pop’”) which harnesses jazz music in its verses and Bavarian oompah music in possibly the best chorus on the album.

Perfect Couples is another stand out track, a tale of people who marry young interjected with witty  lyrics about “sexual tension by the fridge” and “a basket on a bike” that only Belle and Sebastian could muster.  Play For Today, like Nobody’s Empire appears to be partly inspired by Murdoch’s Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (“About a boy, Who hides in attics, When the sun is up, Everyone is at work”) mixed with the tale of a relationship.  This song, rather blissfully, reminded me of Lazy Line Painter Jane, thanks in no small part to the shared vocals with Dee Dee Penny of the Dum Dum Girls whose voice bears a passing resemblance to Monica Queen’s.  Play For Today provides proof that Belle and Sebastian do have the ability to be able to twin their new synthesiser driven musical style with the lyrical quality that we have come to expect of them.  Play For Today is a song which reminds me of the stronger song writing of Paul Heaton’s Beautiful South days, particularly songs he duetted on with Briana Corrigan or Jacqueline Abbott.

The Book of You is a revelation, with a rocking stomping guitar solo and a pumping bassline coupled with the beautifully synchronised dual voices of Murdoch and Sarah Martin.  The song builds and builds with lyrics about “walking in the rain” before one of the best song endings that you will hear all year, it is just a shame that it fades out and loses momentum.  As the electric guitars of The Book of You slip away, the album ends with Today (This Army’s for Peace), a suitably peaceful, dreamy but slightly lethargic song which lulls you to sleep after a long day.  The loose ends of the album’s war theme are tied up in lines such as “Victims will be justified, The lame will be leaping, This army’s for peace, come out into the light today” and all is well with the world.

On first listen, as the album finishes and I am somewhat sleepy after Today (This Army’s For Peace), I am left a little confused about what I have just heard.  Perhaps Stuart Murdoch has just passed on his chronic fatigue syndrome.  I used to get genuinely excited by the prospect of a new Belle and Sebastian record but this time, I had heard The Party line and wasn’t entirely convinced from the outset.  I am still one of those geeks who buys physical records and never downloads and the sleeve, with it’s cover stars resplendent in their World War Two style garb made me happy and full of promise about what I was about to hear.  I thought maybe The Party Line would make sense after hearing the album and that perhaps it was ironic but despite the fact that this album does offer some great moments, I am left feeling cold.  This is a feeling that I have never got from a Belle and Sebastian album before.  Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is the sound of a band who have come of age, but in the process run the risk of losing the things we loved most about them.  This is Belle and Sebastian’s War and Peace, but that war is within themselves.  What we find on Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is a band who can’t decide which direction they should take and as a result, have crafted a work which is at times brilliant but also very odd.  It is an album that may alienate some die hard Belle and Sebastian fans but I urge you to keep listening to it, it does actually become more enjoyable on the second listen.  A valiant effort from our indie soldiers but I suspect an album that will (hopefully) grow on you over time.  I hope this isn’t the end of the Belle and Sebastian story but this is a band in serious need of direction and to perhaps put the synth back on the shelf.

Album Review: Bjork ‘Vulnicura’.

“If you ever get close to a human and human behaviour, You better get ready to be confused, There is definitely, definitely no logic to human behaviour”, sang Bjork on Human Behaviour, from 1993’s groundbreaking Debut album.  Move on 22 years and we find Bjork wrestling to create a fitting epitaph for her relationship with Matthew Barney.  “Moments of clarity are so rare, I better document this”, sings Bjork on the album’s opening track Stonemilker.  Stonemilker is the album’s most, dare I say it, ‘commercial’ track, a love song for a dying relationship, about the lack of human connection within it and a longing to fix it: “A juxtaposing fate, Find our mutual coordinate”

What is striking about Vulnicura when you begin to listen to it is the glacial quality of the strings which are often like great icebergs coming at you.  This ever present string arrangement holds the loose rhythms of the album together in a beautiful yet at times discordant and disconcerting way, as if to perhaps mirror the confusion felt by the singer at the time of writing the songs.  The music of Vulnicura twists and turns like the knives that Bjork and partner twist into each other, pushing them and twisting them further, exposing every facet of human emotion and creating a wound which Bjork endeavours to heal.

Even the title, derived from Latin, where Vulnus means ‘wound’ or ‘injury’ and Cura means ‘a cure’, making it’s meaning ‘a cure for wounds’.  The title could also be taken to mean ‘A cure for the vulnerable”.  A glance at the etymology of the title tells the listener from the outset that this isn’t going to be an easy album to listen to.  Out of Bjork’s back catalogue, Vulnicura most resembles 2001’s Vespertine, although such is the raw emotion on this album, more so than any other Bjork album, it is a completely different animal.  Vulnicura is more soul searching and introspective than previous works.

In Lionsong, about the state of the relationship 5 months prior to the breakup (so we are told by the sleeve notes), Bjork’s partner is described as lionlike, the more emotionally devoid and therefore stronger of the two.  This is a wonderfully crafted song about the differences between female and male emotions.   “I’m not taming no animal”, sings Bjork, whilst trying to compensate for her partner’s seeming indifference, defiantly and unsuccessfully trying to act the same way, stating “Somehow I’m not too bothered”.  This is a very female album, an album only an experienced woman could have made.  This is particularly evident in the line “Our love was my womb” in Black Lake.  Lionsong is a quest to understand her partner’s emotions and that of the human race in general.  22 years after Human Behaviour and it has taken the breakup of her relationship to truly begin to understand the logic of human emotion.

History of Touches, one of the album’s many highlights, features a broken atonal rhythm reflecting the discourse of the relationship brought about by the lack of contact.  The lack of contact and the loss of connection, whether it be physical or emotional, is a key theme on the album, see also the way in which Bjork attempts to tap into her partner’s emotions on Stonemilker, deciding that trying to get him to show emotion is “like milking a stone”.  The theme of unfamiliarity with a lover due to the different way in which they express themselves is extremely important on this album.  See, for example, the way in which on Lionsong, Bjork likens her partner to a Vietnam veteran:  “Vietnam vet comes home from war, Lands in my house, This wild lion does not fit in this chair”.

The centrepiece of the album is undoubtedly the double emotional shell-shock of Black Lake and Family, two tracks which when twinned together form a mournful, funereal view of the aftermath of a relationship.  These two tracks are very much focused on the loss of the singer’s family.  Black Lake, an enormous chasm of a wound, is the sound of somebody burnt from the fall out of a breakup, angry and hurt and blaming her partner (“Family was always our sacred mutual mission which you abandoned”) whilst Family finds the singer asking, “How can I pay respects to the death of my family” in a funeral setting of incense and burning candles.  On Family, Bjork sings, “How will I sing us out of this” before a glimmer of hope cracks through the darkness with the attempt to use remembrance as a solution in order to move forward.  As a centrepiece to the album, Black Lake and Family are an insight into the very essence of the emotions experienced in mourning a death.  This obviously wasn’t an easy album for Bjork to create and although magnificent in its execution, depth and sheer scope of even attempting to write down such personal and complex emotions, it is certainly not an easy one to listen to.

In Notget, having deemed it necessary to move on by keeping the memory of the relationshoip alive, the singer then focuses on keeping those wounded by the breakup alive:  “Love will keep us safe from death”.  I was curious to notice that the timeline in the album’s booklet stops after Notget but was then faced with Atom Dance, a love song attempting to fix the relationship.  Here starts the remembrance phase of the mourning in earnest.  Atom Dance is music of balletic magnitude, assisted by the haunted vocals of Antony Hegarty, the sound of a whirling, spinning, chemically imbalanced storm brewing.  Part way through the song, the balletic music drops away and jars with the sentiment, “No one is a lover alone”, a reminder that, in spite of emotions felt and emotional differences, we are all essentially the same, we are all but chemicals.

Mouth Mantra is a song about the stifling effects of the relationship on Bjork’s creativity.  “Remove this hinderance, my throat feels stuck” and “I was separated from what I can do, What I’m capable of , she sings amidst an increasing tempo of what sounds like laser shots being fired at the singer, a suggestion of the situation becoming increasingly more difficult.  This is the storm we saw in Atom Dance reaching its dramatic climax.

Quicksand beautifully finishes the album with the sound of the singer trying to pull herself and her partner out of the abyss for the sake of their separate futures and the future of their daughter.  This is the final act of healing the wound.  There is a very Christian message in the song with the line “and when she’s broken, she is whole”, a surmising that in order to heal and be in a better place, one must first be broken.  The final sentiment of the album, “Every time you give up, You Take away our future, And my continuity and my daughters” is a beautiful way to end a beautiful album.

This is not an easy album, but one of the unique beauty which only Bjork can manage.  Bjork stands alone as an artist and trying to categorise her or liken her to other artists is a thankless and pointless task.  Vulnicura is an absolute expression of raw emotion, a tear jerking and sometimes gut wrenching one that I have rarely heard on a record.  With Vulnicura, we are given a glimpse into a very personal and life changing situation, carried out in a manner that other artists could only dream of.  22 years after Debut, Bjork is still pushing new ground and in the process, pushing her emotions to create music that is just as unique as when we first heard her.  You may well shed a tear whilst listening to this album, I did, but that is no bad thing, Bjork has achieved the purpose of the album:  An outpouring of emotion, a work that lets you know exactly how she is feeling every step of the way and the finest example of a break up record I have ever heard.