Throwback Thursday: Björk’s ‘Debut’ — what a way to begin

Updated 12 July 2018
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Throwback Thursday: Björk’s ‘Debut’ — what a way to begin

ROTTERDAM: By titling her 1993 breakthrough “Debut,” Björk cutely shrugged off the juvenilia of an earlier self-titled solo album — an Icelandic collection of translated covers released some 16 years earlier — and subtly distanced herself from the three LPs she recorded as lead singer of The Sugarcubes, pointedly signaling her unfiltered voice as unleashed for the first time.   

As revolutionary as it was, “Debut” —which celebrates a 25th anniversary this month — held only bare hints of the heights of artistic invention its author would later rise to. Yet it remains both a generation-defining classic and an apt introduction to one of the most rewarding back catalogues in popular music.  

Opener “Human Behavior” welcomes us to Björk’s cosmic universe with skittish marching band rhythms and a funky timpani riff sampled from Antônio Carlos Jobim, framing that searing, untamed trademark voice — both playful and primordial, coquettish and confessional. The lyrics address us from the point of view of an alien — establishing its creator’s otherworldliness from the off.   

So much of the record’s charms lie in these contrasting textures and unexpected instrumentation — such as the chiming percussion, tabla and Indian orchestra of lilting love letter “Venus as a Boy.”

The role of then-hip producer Nellee Hooper has perhaps been historically overstated, but the influence of the UK’s early 1990s club scene remains revelatory, most evident in the repeatedly remixed singles “Violently Happy” and “Big Time Sensuality.” While far from the first female falsetto to wail over a four-to-the-floor beat, Björk did so as a singer-songwriter, not a hired gun, flipping the genre’s predominant DJ-led hierarchy squarely on its head.  

And, pivotally, she sold records doing so — Björk legitimated electronica to critics and introduced clubby sounds to a mainstream audience, decimating the post-grunge idea that serious and insightful music needed to be made by moody men with guitars. Debut also made Björk a household name, eventually selling close to five million copies and topping numerous decade-end poles. For all its depth, originality and impact, Debut was just the tip of an iceberg — but what a way to begin.


What We Are Reading Today: Notes on a Shipwreck by Davide Enia

Updated 22 February 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Notes on a Shipwreck by Davide Enia

The book is a moving firsthand account of migrant landings on the island of Lampedusa that gives voice to refugees, locals, and volunteers while also exploring a deeply personal father-son relationship. 

“The island of Lampedusa, as the Italian playwright and journalist Davide Enia explains in this quiet yet urgent memoir, is territorially European but belongs tectonically to nearby Africa,” states Steven Heighton in a review published in The New York Times. 

For some 20 years, migrants and refugees launching from Africa have been arriving on this remote, treeless outpost, hoping to travel on to the European mainland. 

“Structurally, the book attests that a sincere engagement with global crises can grow only from a soil of sympathy that’s local and personal,” Heighton added.

A reviewer commented on goodreads.com: “Enia reawakens our sense of wonder at the existential nature, the true terror and dangerousness inherent in the refugee journey by sea. And in the process, he reawakens our compassion.”