Pop music, Alternative rock, Trip hop, Electronica, House music, Alternative dance, Electronic music, Electropop
1. Human Behaviour
2. Venus As A Boy
3. Play Dead
4. Big Time Sensuality
5. Violently Happy
Debut is the first international solo studio album by Icelandic recording artist Björk.[nb 1] The album was released in July 1993 on One Little Indian and Elektra Records, and was produced by Björk in collaboration with artist Nellee Hooper. Her first recording following the dissolution of her previous band the Sugarcubes, the album departed from the rock-oriented style of her previous work and instead drew on an eclectic variety of styles across electronic pop, house music, jazz and trip hop.
Debut received widespread critical acclaim from British music critics, though United States reviewers doled out more mixed reviews. Upon its initial release, the album sold far greater than her label predicted, charting at number three in the United Kingdom and 61 in the United States. It was certified gold in Canada and platinum in the United States, where it remains her best-selling album to date.
Five singles were released from Debut: “Human Behaviour“, “Venus as a Boy“, “Play Dead“, “Big Time Sensuality” and “Violently Happy“. All five singles charted in the United Kingdom with only “Human Behaviour”, “Violently Happy” and “Big Time Sensuality” charting on dance and modern rock charts in the United States.
|The music of Debut draws on an eclectic variety of sources. Treblezine described the album as “[melding] alternative dance and electronic with a graceful flow.” It is said that the album “[shook] the status quo” of the contemporary musical climate, in the sense that its eclectic experimental pop leanings distanced it from the music “primarily being made by men with guitars” that was popular at the time, like grunge and the burgeoning britpop. Michael Cragg of The Guardian has described it as an “indefinable conflation of electronic pop, trip-hop, world music and otherworldly lyrics”. AllMusic described the album’s style as “creative, tantalizing electronic pop.” The New York Times review stated that “Debut often recalls the early 70’s jazz-fusion of bands like Weather Report. But where these fusionists combined jazz harmony with funk and acid rock, Björk marries her scat-vocalese and off-kilter melodies with the futuristic textures and programmed percussion of today’s techno and acid house. Furthermore, The Face‘s Mandi James felt Debut was “a delightful fusion of thrash metal, jazz, funk and opera, with the odd dash of exotica thrown in for good measure.” The singer also took influence from the music of Bollywood and “the buzz of London nightlife.”|
A main element of Debut‘s sound is its incorporation of dance music, reflecting the contemporary styles of London’s club culture, with which the singer had established close ties. While the echoes of subgenres such as Euro-house, acid jazz, worldbeat and IDM can be noted, “they hadn’t yet broken free from the primal thump of four-on-the-floor house music.” Tom Breihan of Stereogum asserts that “even as dance music took on all these new sounds, that basic pulse was still the most important thing about it, and that pulse reverberates all through Debut.” Björk said: “A lot of the songs on my record have dance beats, but I think they’re beats that are more reflective of daily life—like life in the middle of the day in a city, as opposed to the night life of the clubs.” The “four-on-the-floor” style —typical of house music— is mostly evident in songs such as “Human Behaviour”, “Crying”, “Big Time Sensuality“, “There’s More to Life Than This” and “Violently Happy“. Björk felt house music was “the only pop music that [was] truly modern,” stating in 1993 that it was “the only music where anything creative is happening today.”
Her departure from the guitar-driven rock of her previous works stemmed from the feeling that it was outdated, arguing that “as soon as any form becomes traditional, like the guitar, bass and drums, then people start to behave traditionally,” and that “it’s really difficult to get a band to stay on the edge using typical bass, guitar and drums set-up because it tends to lapse into a predictable form.” Being a fan of dance music since the early days of acid house, she thus used it as the framework for her songs. However, in a Rolling Stone interview she also stated that “[she] was more influenced by ambient music than what you’d call dance music, and by things that were happening way back in Chicago and Detroit that were sensual and daring and groundbreaking in their time;” also adding: “Ninety-five percent of the dance music you hear today is crap. It’s only that experimental five percent that I’m into—the records that get played in clubs after 7 o’clock in the morning, when the DJs are playing stuff for themselves, rather than trying to please people.” Björk’s embracement of England’s dance culture also extended to her looks, with her style at the time now considered a representative of 1990s acid house fashion.
Björk’s adoption of “the contemporary musical environment of London” also included the burgeoning trip-hop scene of bands like Portishead and Massive Attack.Co-producer Nellee Hooper had been a member of Bristol‘s “Wild Bunch” collective, a group that took from acid jazz, funk and hip hop and catalyzed the appearance of trip-hop. Thus, the electronically backed songs of the album that are not dance-oriented have a more trip-hop style sound. These non-dance tracks have been described as having a “more delicate atmosphere”. i-D noted that Debut —and Björk’s following album, Post— also integrate ambient techno and jungle, stating that they “couldn’t have existed without Aphex Twin, Black Dog, A Guy Called Gerald, LFO and all the other producers who reshaped the language of music since 1988.” Also present are elements of jazz, with WUOG stating that “while many see Debut as Björk’s clubbiest album, it may also be her jazziest.” Likewise, Brad Shoup of Stereogum wrote that “though her electronic bent gets the most attention, it’s her interest in jazz that courses through the set.” Tim Perlich of Now felt Debut “bridges jazz and pop”, and Simon Reynolds characterized it as “jazzy love songs tinged with an oceanic feeling.”
For the most part, the lyrics of Debut are concerned with love. The love themes range from “flesh-and-blood passion” for another person to the love of life itself. According to i-D, with a couple of exceptions, the songs of Debut fell into two types: “those where Björk addressed the listener as someone in pain and told them fireworks would light their nights and all would be well;” and “songs where she sang about her own pain.” The Face stated that the album’s lyrics “[consolidated] her love affair with language,” while The Sunday Times felt that Björk “rigorously [avoided] the obvious” by using lyrics that do not rhyme.
Album opener “Human Behaviour” features a “bouncing riff” sampled from Antônio Carlos Jobim, with “its syncopated beat consigned to a venerable orchestral instrument, the timpani.” Its lyrics refer to Björk’s experience as a child, finding the behaviour of adults “rather chaotic and nonsensical,” instead finding harmony with other children, nature and animals. Inspired by naturalist David Attenborough, she sings from the point of view of an animal, with its opening line being “If you ever get close to a human/And human behaviour/Be ready, be ready to get confused”. Following track “Crying” shows a contradiction between its “bubbly, shiny-surfaced acid disco-pop” sound and lyrics that describe the turmoil of feeling alienated in a big city. “Venus as a Boy” —considered an ambient track by Rolling Stone— reflected Björk’s newly found interest in Bollywood, having befriended people of Indian origin in London, most notably Talvin Singh. In a spontaneous fashion, the song’s strings —and also those of “Come to Me”— were recorded by a fim studio orchestra in India. The lyrics of the track are about the sensitivity of her then boyfriend Dominic Thrupp, with lyrics that have been described as “sweet and just the slightest bit naughty.” In the dancefloor-oriented “There’s More to Life Than This”, Björk leaves romance behind, with “her mischievous side [coming] to the fore”. Its lyrics were inspired by a party she attended and promptly left. “Like Someone in Love” is one of the several jazz standards the singer recorded with Corky Hale, with her voice “cradled in harp and swoony strings.”
“Like Someone in Love” is followed by the techno-tinged “Big Time Sensuality” in an “intentionally startling” leap. An “anthem to emotional bravery,” it contains lyrics described as “simple but passionate”, concerning Björk’s relationship with her co-producer Nellee Hooper. The songs “The Anchor Song”, “One Day”, and “Aeroplane” draw on what Björk refers to as her more “academic, clever side”. “One Day” also presents a sudden shift of mood, featuring a “gently pulsing bass” that builds into an “itchily impassioned, housey pop euphoria.” “Aeroplane” is one of Debut‘s most musically complicated pieces with off-kilter arrangement from Oliver Lake; its backdrop is inspired by exotica music. This song is also about Thrupp, written when he was living in the United Kingdom and Björk still lived in Iceland. “Come to Me” features a “hazy musical backdrop of raindrop synths, padded drums and sweeping strings”; lyrically, it explores a “sensually intense need to nurture.” “Violently Happy” is the most hardcore techno track on the album. In the song, over “brisk house beats” Björk sings in a stammering fashion, as she “struggles to express feelings of excitement so intense she seems on the brink of leaping out of her skin.” As a gesture to inexpressible feelings, the song samples one syllable and “[turns] it into a stuttering vocal tic.” Closing track “The Anchor Song” is the only one in the album solely produced by Björk. One of the three songs to appear on her first demo cassette of 1990, it features Oliver Lake playing the saxophone, in an arrangement that replicated the “ebb and tide of an ocean’s peaking tops, an image reinforced by Björk’s fiercely patriotic lyrics.”