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

Updated 12 July 2018
0

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.


‘Who is America?’ Cohen splits critics with TV return

Updated 16 July 2018
0

‘Who is America?’ Cohen splits critics with TV return

NEW YORK: “Who is America?” is both the title of Sacha Baron Cohen’s first foray into television satire in more than a decade and the existential question on the lips of liberals living through the Trump presidency.
Trailed by a blaze of pre-launch publicity and a furious backlash from public figures who believe they have been pranked, its splashy debut won most attention Sunday for hoodwinking Republican politicians into endorsing a made-up plan to train pre-schoolers how to fire a gun.
The series brings seven episodes to pay-to-view channel Showtime years after the British comedian was last on television with “Da Ali G Show” — his wannabe-rapper character interviewing the powerful and famous.
In “Who is America?” Cohen conjures up four new characters. Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., is an opponent of “mainstream” media who debates health care with left-leaning Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
There is Nira Cain-N’degeocello, a pink-hat wearing, ultra-liberal hippy, who dines at the home of a Trump-voting couple.
Rick Sherman is an ex-con turned artist who works in the medium of human feces and bodily fluids, and who meets a totally accepting California gallery owner who donates public hair to his paint brush.
Finally, Israeli “anti-terror expert” Col. Erran Morad pranks Republicans into endorsing a concocted plan to teach children as young as three and four how to fire a firearm, along with a “Puppy Pistol.”
Teasers for the new series saw US former vice president Dick Cheney signing a “waterboard kit” and Sarah Palin unleash a furious Facebook attack, upset to have been one of Cohen’s pranked subjects.
Palin, the former vice-presidential nominee and ex-Alaska governor who did not appear in the first episode, slammed the comedian’s “evil, exploitive, sick ‘humor.’ “
But if early reviews are more muted, they are also mixed.
The New York Times called the first episode “tepid and inconsequential,” and ill-suited to the times.
If The New Yorker waxed lyrical about “sporadically excellent conceptual art,” trade magazine Variety warned Cohen’s nihilism can “itch and irritate more than enlighten and entertain.”
The Guardian praised “one moment of viral gold” but otherwise lamented “mostly a frustrating experience.”
After “Da Ali G Show,” which transferred from Britain to America, Cohen found success with hit movie characters such as bumbling Kazakh reporter Borat and gay Austrian fashionista Bruno.
His 2012 movie, “The Dictator,” starring himself as a Muammar Qaddafi style tyrant was less well reviewed.