Björk at 49

Adrian Thrills on Björk’s Vulnicura:

A diary-like album begins by documenting a relationship in its death throes. On melodic opening track Stonemilker, written before the break-up, Björk sings like a veteran soul diva about her need for ‘emotional respect’.

Growing aware of the warning signs, however, she then admits: ‘I’d better document this.’ And document it she does. By the mid-point of the album, the misery is palpable.

When Björk does a big heartbreak ballad, the sense of wintry desolation is all-consuming, and Black Lake — a ten-minute epic in which one particular chord lasts for 30 seconds — is almost too discomforting to listen to.

Much the same goes for Family, a long, tuneless dirge that is Vulnicura’s low point, both musically and in terms of the singer’s ability to come to terms with heartache. But the darkest hour leads to a new dawn. With Antony Hegarty on backing vocals and Björk singing about ‘dancing towards transformation’, Atom Dance is jaunty and life-affirming, while Mouth Mantra finds her rediscovering her own voice.

Björk knows things aren’t quite so simple. With the final track Quicksand examining the damage a broken union can inflict on subsequent generations, her unflinching honesty remains.

Two decades after leaving indie band The Sugarcubes to turn solo, she hasn’t lost her capacity to surprise.