Lost Treasures – Viv Albertine’s “The Vermillion Border” (Revisited)


Viv Albertine – “The Vermillion Border”

Cadiz Music (2012)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Viv Albertine should be anointed patron saint of the domestically dispossessed. After leaving her band The Slits and the music business some three decades ago, she reestablished dominion over her own life after a lengthy submission to the mundane identity of Hastings housewife and mother. When Albertine finally decided to cast off the invisible shackles of marriage, Albertine had no golden parachute of prior chart hits to help zip line her escape from a financially responsible but existentially impoverished husband; a man who possessed no appreciation for the musical visionary he lived with for 17 years.

After releasing an excellent 4 song EP “Flesh” in 2010, Albertine’s formal declaration of independence took the form of her 2012 debut solo album “The Vermillion Border” and it’s a revelation. Albertine is present and in charge throughout the 11 tracks that comprise the album. Each song features her feathery, labyrinthine guitar style and her honey-sweet monotone vocals. And, of further interest is the guest line-up, that features a different bass player on each track – those include; Jack Bruce, Tina Weymouth, Glen Matlock, Danny Thompson and a host of others. If suffering is the compost of good art, “The Vermillion Border” is an art piece 25 years in the making. Stylistically, the album is clearly informed by the artist’s eclectic and inclusive listening habits as well as her life experiences with sexism, cancer, marriage, motherhood and divorce. You would not expect such a catholic variance in style, tone and color from an ex-punker. However, when you factor in that her favorite guitar player is Progressive Guitar icon, Steve Howe from Yes, it all starts to make sense. As a guitarist she conjures an impressive range of sounds and rhythms using muted strings, drone strings, note clusters, capos and chord embellishments.

Naked Guitar HI Res

“The Vermillion Border” is a rich banquet of mood and tone. As a songwriter, Viv keeps it simple and sticks to verse/chorus song structure with the odd bridge or transition.  Her voice is an unpretentious instrument of persuasion that – when layered and doubled – can add up to significantly more than its component parts.

What follows is a track by track overview of “The Vermillion Border”

1. “I Want More” If any song serves as a manifesto to Albertine’s third act heroics it’s this track. It’s snarly, provocative and cacophonic in equal and proper measure. Lyrically, it works on many levels; as an existential plea to the cosmic referee to put up a few more minutes on the clock, or as an ultimatum to an underachieving partner to raise their game a notch. “I Want More” charges out of the gate hard.

2.“Confessions of a MILF” – The catchiest track on the album is probably the deepest. The artist has alluded to that fact that nursery rhymes are probably the closest thing young girls have to a collective folk music tradition. The song starts off dead simple with a hooky little Telecaster riff as the bedrock to Albertine’s screed against domestic mundanity. As the music builds and gets angrier, so do the lyrics. The volume and dissonance increases unabated as Albertine chants her repetitive mantras of domestic servitude. It all builds to a raucous crescendo with Albertine howling, “SHOES OFF!” before she crumples to the floor breathless while still gasping her desperate incantations through to the end of the track. A fascinating record by any measure. However, the involvement of Albertine’s ex-paramour Mick Jones (The Clash) turns “..Milf” into an epic.

3. “In Vitro” – Here, Albertine alludes to the travails of In Vitro fertilization, in addition to her regime of chemotherapy; the woman has suffered. The In Vitro regime included daily self-administered stomach injections. But, one wonders if the needles she coos so benignly about could also belong to absent friends who ultimately succumbed to the ravages of Heroin. Arguably the most sophisticated and detailed composition on the album.

4. When it was Nice – One imagines this song was written during that transitional period where  rose tinted denial gradually gives way to the realization that that you’ve grown to dislike the person you’re in love with.

5. Hook-up Girl – On this tune Albertine mixes a sappy girl-pop verse with a bouncy malt-shop refrain: all describing the dark melancholy that accompanies a dour, loveless relationship based only on sexual convenience. Clearly, the narrator is not happy with the proffered arrangement, which she describes as… “Blowjobs no kisses”.

6. The False Heart – A druggy mood piece that shuffles sleepily into the twilight zone of despondency. On this piece more than any other, Albertine’s guitar work conveys more than words. Albertine’s voice sounds fragile and emotionally spent, beyond caring. The refrain is a faint schoolyard taunt, wearily repeating the word….liar, liar, liar…

7. Don’t Believe – In her book, Albertine professed her admiration and obsession with John Lennon and his art. “Don’t Believe” is the female riposte to Lennon’s neo-nihilist purge “God”. His influence (lyrically) is clearly present on this track. Written the day her father died, “Don’t Believe” stands as one of the greatest atheist anthems in the Rock pantheon, a slow boil screed where Albertine sneeringly declares belief only in things that she can see, touch and feel. The harmonic structure is a deceptively nuanced, circular guitar riff that brings to mind early XTC.

8. Becalmed (I Should Have Known) – Gorgeous, atmospheric track. Imagine a sober, transgendered Syd Barrett baring his soul after jumping into the existential void without a safety line. Indeed, Albertine’s slithery slide work sounds like it could have been sampled directly from Pink Floyd’s “Relics”.

9. Little Girl In A Box – Having read Albertine’s amazing book “Boys.., Clothes.., Music..”, the lyrics on “The Vermillion Border” scan like a ‘cliff notes’ version of that work. Albertine whispers the lyrics in the manner of a mother reading her daughter to sleep. However, instead of a benign fairy tale, this is a cautionary one for a girl taking her first tentative steps into womanhood. Probably meant for the ears of Albertine’s own daughter. However, the standard mommy speech is clearly extrapolated from personal experience and (possibly) from similar advice given by Albertine’s own mother.

10. Madness of Clouds – Floating, meandering mood piece. The only track on “The Vermillion Border” that courts dispensability.

11. Still England –Clearly, Albertine’s work is informed by that particular love/hate relationship with Britain that other British artists (Kinks, XTC, The Beatles) have mined to great artistic effect. On this tune she gives us a laundry list of the most British of British institutions and celebrities. She somehow combines cultural pride with a healthy distain for bullshit iconography. The song marches along – ticking off such disparate people and entities as The Royal Mail, Kate Bush, David Bowie, Tea, The Roxy, etc…. The final word uttered is ‘cunt’; the most inflammatory, gender specific epithet in the English language. The word is both bracing and startling, while at the same time, it’s uttered casually and unapologetically. Albertine (a stealthy anti-hero in the feminist movement) somehow denudes the word’s power to hurt or shock. “Still England” is the perfect end to a near perfect album.

This writer stubbornly maintains that Rock and Roll as a living, breathing art is dead. However, once in a while a maverick bolt of lightning strikes the corpse and animates the monster to life (however briefly) and thus, forces us to question our pronouncement. “The Vermillion Border” is just such an album.


Debut Albums that Shook My World – Lene Lovich “Stateless”

Authored by Dale Nickey:



They were called “promotional films” back then. There was no television broadcast channel dedicated to music. MTV was a few years off. The Z Channel was the one cable channel on the block where you could watch movies intended for mature audiences. Now and then you would see a band you liked on The Midnight Special or In Concert. There were a few local music shows on TV too. But, not many.

Anyway, promotional films were becoming the main avenue for up and coming British artists to plant their flag on U.S. soil. That’s how I found Kate Bush. Then, one day Lene Lovich came.

Kate Bush was odd and ethereal. Lene Lovich was just plain weird…and wonderful. She just materialized on my television one night. Exotic, pretty and tough as nails. Never saw that combination of attributes in a woman before. She was Punk, but not really. It was a whole different ball game. In her music I heard Classical, Motown, and Rockabilly…the works. Her first song that made it over to the states was “Lucky Number”. The film for that song was from a hipper world than the one I lived in. Lene’s boyfriend (Les Chappel) was the guitar player and looked ominous with his shaved head. Not like today – when everyone from your cable guy to your coffee barista is a skinhead. Back then, in the era of Prog caped-crusaders with flowing locks, it was a real statement. A statement of what, I was wasn’t sure. I wasn’t jealous of Les because he didn’t seem like a typical yob boyfriend. He seemed more like Lene’s loyal subject and henchman. Indeed, the video showed the band standing well behind Lene bowing in submission while she declared:

“…everything I do I take complete control, that’s where I’m coming from. My Lucky Number is one”

The only question that remained was; where can I buy this goddamned record?

Stateless was her first album and everything about it was perfect. This was an album by a female artist, but the artwork was refreshingly absent  pinks, pastels and squiggly graphics. The American version had Lene facing the camera, unsmiling, shot from the waist up. Giving nothing away. Wearing a black tunic like those favored by Communist politburo officials. She looked like Stalin or Mao Tse Tung reincarnated as a hot chick. Even had a dimple on her chin like Mao. Love at first sight.

The back cover was equally austere black and white. Nobody could guess what era this album came from if they didn’t know already. It was the perfect tonic for a lost, inquiring, non-conformist punk like me. There was a time when kids didn’t want to fit in, or wear the same poncy sneakers as everybody else. We didn’t want our heroes to look like us. We wanted something out of this world; or at the very least, not of our world. Lene was a British artist, born in Detroit with Yugoslavian ancestry. Maybe there was a god.

Lene would show up fairly regularly on TV. I can’t remember which shows. But, somehow she found me. Then came the film for “Say When”. It was a live band performance mimed to the record. Didn’t matter. The film showed a town hall full of kids, arms locked and smashed together like sardines going ape shit. There was Lene, braids down to her ass, blissfully ignorant of any fire code, gleefully detonating this explosion of teen hormones. Little did I know the woman was 30 years old.

Lene had a hot hand. Kate Bush couldn’t gain any traction with the American audience but Lene was making her mark. After Stateless, came the album Flex and a thunderbolt from the heavens, “Bird Song”. “Bird Song” (the film) got a lot of play in America. I was surprised it didn’t do better on Billboard, but I saw it on TV a lot. Lene in a wedding gown, in mourning dress, in graveyards, stalked by evil priests.  Beautiful, dour, bold, and gothic. I fell hard under the spell of “Bird Song”, Her vocals were from another dimension. I then realized that at the core of all great art there was sadness. Happy songs were stupid.

Lene needed a hit, so she came up with “New Toy”. The perfect single. She swung the hammer that drove the final nail into the disco coffin by becoming the first musical artist to put on a concert at the disco mecca Studio 54. She was on her way. Incredible performer. Better than Jagger even. Nothing could stop her it seemed.

Then she was gone. She didn’t say goodbye. She just wasn’t there anymore. Me and my friends got older and started making our own music and hooking up with girls. The new wave of rock music (inspired by Punk) got co-opted by the dweebs in The Biz. They hogtied it, categorized it, and gave us Spandau Ballet and Haircut 100. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go down. Stiff records didn’t think Lene was commercial enough so they held up her next album for two years. Just long enough for Michael Jackson to happen. Just long enough for the Hip Hop hoards to arm themselves with their beatboxes and begin their long march, trampling over all that stood before. The music world slowly but surely began its fade to black.

Lene Lovich wasn’t made for this world, but she stopped by for a visit and left us some cool presents before she de-materialized. Stateless was one of those gifts. We never got to see the production of ‘Lene Lovich Superstar’. But we will always have the legend. Legends are better than stars. They endure.

Book Review – “Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys” (Viv Albertine)

Reviewed by Dale Nickey:


Postcards from the hedge…

At a time when any sane fifty-something housewife and mother would be asking herself,  “Is that all there is?”, Viv Albertine shouted, “I want more!”.

In case you didn’t know, Viv Albertine was the guitarist and songwriter for the seminal British punk band The Slits. In the late 1970’s, The Slits – along with The Clash and The Sex Pistols – invented Punk music, fashion and culture. Her experiences could fill a book; and In fact, they did. In 2014, she published her critically acclaimed and award winning book,”Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys”. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and in this book, life imitates art.

With no ghost-writer in sight, Albertine leaves it all on the page and never blinks. She chronicles her experiences with masturbation, poverty, sex, Heroin, abortion, depression, sexism, cancer, marriage, motherhood, divorce and (above all) music.

Albertine’s  remembrance of the golden age of Punk (1977-1979) is loaded with grimy, mundane detail. She befriended Sid Vicious and blew Johnny Rotten. She had a three year relationship with Mick Jones of The Clash. She took guitar lessons from Keith Levene (PIL). She shot Heroin with Johnny Thunders. She dated Vincent Gallo and beat back cancer. Her life has been an extreme roller coaster ride through a gale of blood, sweat and shit. Moreover, she is clearly not done yet.

The Frank Sinatra/Sid Vicious evergreen “My Way” could have been written by Viv Albertine. Where most Rock music autobiographies obscure your view with the high gloss finish of ghost writing, co-authorship and/or over zealous copy-editing, Albertine sticks to the Punk ethos and puts her own pen to paper (warts and all). There are dodgy moments as regards syntax and punctuation. However, much like a great punk record – where passion trumps perfection – Albertine’s narrative has an edge and energy that would surely be diluted by literary precision.

If you assume the most engrossing part of the book revolves around her memoirs of London’s Punk scene, you would be dead wrong. The Punk era merely serves as preamble and allegory to the remainder of her life. Punk was about demolishing stagnant cultural forms and rebuilding from scratch. Viv Albertine not only applied this ethos to her music, but her life as well.

There’s heartbreak, humor and heroism on every page. Albertine has stated that she views her book as a self-help guide for young girls navigating the choppy waters of sexism and failure. Yes, it’s all that. But, it’s also an inspirational treatise for those of us navigating the infinitely choppier waters of ageism and mortality.

In the tired genre of the Rock Music autobiography, “Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys” (along with Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles”) stands  a world apart and miles above. A drop-dead masterpiece.


In the clip below, the author talks about her book…..

Morning Music Funnies # 6 – (Kate Bush and Mr. Bean)

After The Beatles disbanded in 1970, a long estrangement began between the British and American music industries. No longer was it automatic that British superstars would be unconditionally loved by the American record buying public. In the late 70’s, Kate Bush achieved a level of fame and ubiquity that totally bypassed the American market. After her debut single “Wuthering Heights” hogged the number 1 spot for six straight weeks, Kate Bush’s image was inescapable. He picture was on busses, billboards and tabloids. Mainstream comedy shows had a field day doing parodies. And, though her early videos basically jump started the music video industry, the only sure path to mass exposure was Television. So Kate dutifully submitted to the ‘dog and pony’ show that included, a network Christmas Special, BBC documentaries and interviews, as well as the Euro talk show circuit. She was also sporting enough to do a bit on Comic Relief in 1986 with British comedy icon Rowan Atkinson (Black Adder, Mr. Bean).

At the close of the seventies, Kate Bush was a name brand recognized by every citizen in Western Europe and much of the civilized world. However in America, cult stardom was the best she could muster. It was reported that she boldly turned down an offer to open for Fleetwood Mac on a world tour during their most commercially successful period. Interesting to speculate how her careen might have turned if she had said yes.

Morning Music Funnies – # 5 (Steve Coogan and Bjork) – “Short Term Affair”

On this 1997 Comic Relief number, famed British comic Coogan and Icelandic Pop Icon Bjork team up for “A Short Term Affair”. Bjork reveals her affinity for Broadway as she and Coogan have a hoot and a half for charity. A different side to Bjork we seldom see.

Lost and Found – Lene Lovich (The Mata Hari of Rock)


Authored by Dale Nickey:

Britain in the late 70’s was the place to be if you were a strong, creative and unusual woman artist. 1977 gifted the world with Kate Bush, 1978 brought us Chrissie Hynde. Finally in 1979, a braided, shrieking, East-Euro dervish of a woman kicked the door off its hinges and twirled into our consciousness like some transgender, Rock and Roll incarnation of the Tasmanian Devil. Her name was Lene Lovich.

Please think of Lene (pronounced lay-nah) next time you watch Lady Ga GaCindi Lauper, Dale Bozzio or Bjork. Lene Lovich was unusual before unusual became the new normal. She will always carry around the inaccurate tag of New Wave ingénue. But that’s like saying Jimi Hendrix played rock and roll. Yeah he did, but that’s just part of the story.

Heading into the second half of the seventies decade, the debris of 60’s counterculture was still smoking and smoldering. Though Britain was undergoing the upheaval of punk, in America it was still a boutique industry. And, though gender roles were starting to change, women were still expected to occupy a certain place in the music landscape. Joni Mitchell sold a lot of records when she wore jeans and crinoline and sang about being, “strung out on another man”. However, when she jazzed things up and became more of a ball buster, her sales dipped. Emmylou Harris, Carol King, Karen Carpenter……the list goes on; long hair, jeans and “just touch my cheek before you leave”. Glitz? Glamour? That was selling out to the man. Plastic soul. Even strong, intelligent, ‘fuck you’ women artists had to toe a certain line and content themselves with being “the chick singer” in a successful band (Example: Grace Slick, Stevie Nicks). Black music you ask? It was Disco or die.

One could argue that Lene Lovich was the first commercially successful Outsider woman artist. If you check out her backstory, you’ll find that being different and unique was Lene’s only available option and not a jaded construct.


Lili-Marlene Premilovich was born in Detroit,  March 30.1949 to a Yugoslavian father and an English mother. It was an unpleasant and intolerant urban environment for someone of Lene’s European sensibilities.  Lene described herself as the “Wednesday Adams” of the school she went to. Clearly, her Outsider roots formed early.

Reprieve came in the form of a move to Britain with her mother when Lovich was age 13. Even though Lene ended up in Hull (arguably ‘the Detroit’ of Britain), young Lene flowered in a way she would never have done in America. She found her muse by the same method many seminal British artists did; she attended art school. She studied drama, sculpture and learned to play the saxophone. She worked as an Oriental dancer, a Go Go girl, a voice over artist, lyricist-for-hire and busked the London underground. She absorbed many diverse influences and her drive to realize her musical vision was relentless. The fact that she was pushing 30 by the time she signed to Stiff Records (1978) was probably a positive thing. When Lene finally did hit big, she was a mature woman who knew who she was and what she wanted. Moreover, the themes of independence and self-determination would become lyrical cornerstones of her art.


Lene Lovich was that rarest of all animals, a virtuoso with no formal musical training. Lovich developed her vocal technique by making sounds and noises on her walks to school; testing her range to see how high she could go, and then dipping down and see how low her voice could go. She was extreme and fit in perfectly with the Punk/New Wave zeitgeist that thirsted for all things strange and thrilling. She could swagger down low on a verse and then kick it into the stratosphere on a dime with death defying shrieks and screams in the chorus. However, her excesses were always musical. Listen to “Bird Song” (on the album Flex). It affects me physically every time I hear it. Sometimes it chills the spine; sometimes it brings tears to my eyes. But it’s not background music for other pursuits.

Lene Lovich (along with Bush and Hynde) were girls of a different feather. All the aforementioned were hot, strong and under the thumb of no man or record label; nor did they need to ghettoize their art as women’s music. Lene Lovich is still with us tours Europe regularly. Do revisit her music and see her live if you’re lucky enough to have her performing in your town. She is a force of nature and irreplaceable. And, for those of us who are settling into our recliners for a very wintry and climactic final act, she’s divine inspiration.


Click Here to visit Lene >>>> http://lenelovich.net/




 Authored by Dale Nickey:


,,,,this time it’s personal…..

The album “Vulnicura” represents a return to Bjork’s musical core elements. Those being, voice, strings and beats. The most obvious antecedent to this new work would be Bjork’s fifth album “Vespertine”. However, where “Vespertine” chronicled a contented solitude and retreat to the interior world of home; this new record examines – by torchlight – the chambers of a wounded soul. This is Bjork’s breakup album, her “Blood On The Tracks”. And the person of interest is Bjork’s longtime companion, collaborator and father of her second child, Matthew Barney.

The fact that Barney is a filmmaker who collaborated with Bjork on film explains the cinematic gravitas of “Vulnicura”. However, the scale is not widescreen, its tightly framed and spare. The strings on “Vespertine” were panoramic and patriotic. Bjork’s string arrangements on “Vulnicura” are compressed and drip with melodrama. “Vulnicura” is a one woman, nine-act play, save a cameo from Antony (of The Johnsons) on “Atom Dance”. On this album it’s Bjork’s voice that dominates the sonic landscape.  And it’s a career performance.

Bjorkologists will look back at the previous three albums, “Medulla”, “Volta” and “Biophilia” as the artist’s grand troika of her outsider, experimental period. These albums probed the outer frontier of sound, rhythm and technology and inhabit a distant elliptical orbit in Bjork’s discography. However, “Vulnicura” brings it all back home; an artistic shift that is wise, welcome and challenging.

This is the artist’s most emotionally naked album. It is somewhat disconcerting to hear Bjork suffering on record. We have come to view her as some sort of alpha-fem super hero under the emotional sway of no man or entity. Now she hurts, a man did her wrong and she telling the world about it without the buffering agent of a character or musical concept. Indeed, on the cover we find our heroine dressed in mourning black with a deep, gaping wound in her chest for all the world to see; spikes emanating from her head and arms protecting her from any kiss or caress that might presage more heartbreak.

The lyrics scan like a nine part deposition testifying her need for clarity, her hope for rapprochement and her grief at the collapse of her triangle of love that defines the traditional family unit of father, mother, child. And in the end, a steely, Icelandic acceptance that she’s been cut adrift by an emotionally disconnected man who loved her less than he was loved. Bjork is an artist who has traditionally obfuscated personal emotions and feelings by inhabiting different characters for each album. All of whom were obviously different incarnations of the artist, but still remained alien and just beyond our grasp. On “Vulnicura”, her lyric-thoughts seem like sudden bursts of emotional epiphany written on the fly in restaurants, airports, and hotel rooms across the globe; pieced together at a later date, like some emotional jigsaw puzzle of the heart.

You’ll find no breakthrough hit single on “Vulnicura”. No hooks, riffs or choruses to hum on your morning commute. Bjork didn’t make this album for us. In a sense, she’s dumped her emotional garbage on us – the devoted listeners. But it’s a fascinating heap, strewn with all things sparkling and pulsating. Semi-precious gems, discarded living organs and cloth pages ripped and crumpled from a leather-bound diary. A glorious mess, projectile vomited from the heart. Bjork can’t make an inconsequential album it seems. This one sticks to you and grows. However, is “Vulnicura” her masterpiece?

Possibly… maybe.

************************************************************************************************************************************ (Editors Note: Due to time constraints a track by track overview was not available by press time. Will follow at later date)

Girl Uninterrupted – Guide to Bjork on DVD


More Bjork?..click>>>>  medullabiophiliaolympicsMatmos /bjork

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Bjork saw the future, and it was her. Bjork cultivated visuals as a vital and equal component to her art right out of the starting gate. Future musical archaeologists looking for the roots of Lady Ga Ga and her ilk will need to look no further than the rich video legacy left by Bjork.

In a addition to a dazzling array of innovative music videos, Bjork has also maintained a steady flow of concert videos documenting every album in her discography with the exception of her soundtrack album for the film “Dancer In The Dark” and her a Capella album “Medulla”.

Viewing one concert video by Bjork only scratches the surface of her range as an artist. Each concert video is a unique experience unto itself. Bjork chooses a different character for each album and constantly changes band personnel to meet the demands of her ever-evolving music. So, the artist you watch on the “Cambridge” concert DVD is (in essence) a different person from the one performing on “Vessel” (Bjork’s first concert DVD). Only David Bowie matches Bjork in the ability to shape-shift public image while remaining true to the art.

Here is a consumer guide to the world of Bjork on video:



Bjork’s (1993) major label solo debut, the enigmatically titled “Debut” roared out of the gate at warp speed. Along with a smorgasbord of album remixes, Bjork later issued a companion concert video titled “Vessel”. “Vessel” gives us Bjork in her “Icelandic bumpkin in a strange land” persona.  Her band of immigrants play with a precision that is both jazzy and inspired. This would be Bjork’s only tour with a traditional band set up (including a  bass and drums rhythm section). The songs on “Debut” are brought to life stripped of the heavy electronic veneer found on the studio release. Candid home movies cut between songs give “Vessel” the requisite ‘period’ charm.

MTV Unplugged:

mtv unplugged

Bjork pulls out all the stops on the British version of the MTV franchise (Unplugged). Bjork employs a different instrumental configuration for each song performed.  Again, the material is drawn exclusively from her smash “Debut”.  Where “Vessel” was organic in an electric context; “….Unplugged” has Bjork sticking rigidly to the acoustic concept with the use of Harpsichord, a tuned percussion ensemble, horn section, glass harmonica, concert harp and stand-up acoustic bass.  This DVD is value for the money due to the quality of the “Unplugged” performance alone.  However, you get a bonus live in-studio performance of songs culled from later albums, “Post” and “Homogenic”. However, the visual effects are gimmicky and her dress is ill fitting.

“Live At Shepherds Bush”


With the release of Bjork’s second long-player “Post”, the specter of Bjork being a ‘one hit wonder’ was obliterated completely. “Post” exceeded the bar set by “Debut”. Hit singles started to pile up and music videos kept coming along with bigger budgets and bigger ideas. “Live at Shepard’s Bush” finds Bjork re-tooling her touring band with two programmers, a live-mixer, one keyboardist, an electric accordionist and a live drummer. Bjork herself sports a space-age flight attendant look and pumps up the electronic beats without losing the feel. 

“Live At Cambridge”


“Live At Cambridge” is perhaps Bjork’s finest moment in concert. Bjork to this point had never been anything less than  compelling on record and on video. With “…Cambridge” she shifts into a whole new gear and is truly mesmerizing. A vision in white as the ‘Icelandic Warrior Princess’, Bjork gobbles up the stage accompanied by only an eight piece string section and mixer/programmer Mark Bell. With an impressive repertoire to draw from, and legs to die for, Bjork delivers thrills and chills with this “Homogenic” tour document. No back-up singers or dancers to be seen. Just pure uncut talent.

” Royal Opera House”

royal opera house

Bjork’s relentless push upward and onward finds expression in her most ambitious album and tour yet, “Vespertine”. Where “Debut” and “Post” documented the travails of the alien, country girl coming of age in the big city, “Vespertine” chronicles Bjork’s retreat to the  domesticity of her homeland (Iceland). However, as Bjork’s star ascended, her quest for excellence became insatiable. For “Vespertine”, the string octet was expanded to a full orchestra. Bjork travelled to Greenland to hand pick her women’s choir. Bjork retained outside artists/sound designers Matmos to give her beat structures a nip and tuck. Lush, expansive and not in a rush to go anywhere, ”Vespertine” stunned opera house audiences world-wide with the first successful attempt at quadraphonic surround-sound in concert.

Dancer In the Dark:

download (1)

Bjork got a lot of mileage out of her only starring role in a feature-length film. Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival as well as an Oscar nomination for the film soundtrack. What about the film itself?  “Dancer In the Dark” was an offbeat amalgam of melodrama, dance numbers and Shakespearean tragedy. The world was put on notice that Bjork could do just about anything. However, it was Bjork herself who pulled the plug on her acting career and never looked back.  She turned down a mega-buck offer to co-star in “Tank Girl”…..thank god……

The Making of Medulla:


With the success of all things Bjork steaming along unabated, the artist decided it was time for a reset and re-think. She went through a period of exploration. She gave birth to her second child and investigated the limits and possibilities of the human voice with her a Capella album “Medulla”. Obviously logistics precluded a tour of the album, so Bjork instead chose to release a documentary on the making of “Medulla”.  Bjork talks about her old bands, the challenges of making a vocal album and childbirth. There is plenty of cool studio footage of Bjork in charge and on a creative roll. If this isn’t enough, a DVD of the music videos for “Medulla” is also available.

“Songs From The Volta Tour (2008):


Bjork’s sabbatical from touring ended with the completion of the album “Volta”. One of the missions of “Volta” was the exploration of horn arrangements. The tour found a forty-something Bjork backed by an Icelandic female brass band, Mark Bell, two additional programmers, a keyboardist and a live drummer. The “Volta Tour” was as much a roll out of the “Medulla” material as it was for the new album “Volta”. This bottle of lightning was captured in Paris at the Olympia and finds Bjork at her most electrifying and commanding. This live concert integrates her audience more than any of Bjork’s other concert DVD and finds them in a state of euphoric rapture. As a bonus, we also get a brief sampler of Bjork at an intimate church in Reykjavik performing a brace of vocal-heavy tunes from “Medulla” with a guest choir and brass section. The Reykjavik performances are not essential but a nice curio for the true Bjorkhead.

Also Essential…..

Inside Bjork’

inside bjork

This is the authorized documentary. You won’t see any tabloid revelations or regurgitation. The focus is on the artist, her roots and her muse. Sir Elton John and Sean Penn, Beck and Thom Yorke make vital and intelligent comment on Bjork’s art and aura. There are lots of interesting tidbits of information and  revealing interviews with the subject herself. My personal highlight is Bjork performing “Anchor Song”  on an old church pump organ in a chapel in Iceland.  Bjork’s connection to the topography of her homeland is palpable.



“Volumen” presents the golden age of Bjork’s music videos from “Debut” through “Homogenic”. These include her groundbreaking work with directors Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry. “Isobel” is a noir masterpiece and “I Miss You” is an animated hoot and a half.  You can find dazzling special effects on most music videos nowadays. But, most lack the intelligence and wit displayed on “Volumen”.

“Later with Jools Holland (1995-2011)”

later with jools

The Jools Holland show is a British television institution that attracts A-list musicians  from every country. It’s a show that Bjork has revisited several times and the show’s intimate staging and excellent sound has always inspired great performances. The DVD shows Bjork in all of her chameleonic glory. It’s also helpful that the song selections proceed chronologically. Moreover, (at this writing) it is the only official source for performances of her “Biophilia” material.

If all the above isn’t enough…….



The least essential Bjork DVD, it does have its charms. The DVD is (for the most part) only an expansion of the mini-documentary found on the “Royal Opera House” DVD.  Miniscule details her “Vespertine” period. It also boasts some creative, home-video experiments and some rare interview segments with the artist.

“Volumen Plus”

volumen plus

After her big budget music video extravaganzas of the late 20th Century, Bjork starts to go introspective and reductive in her music videos. Don’t let me buzz kill this collection, but it’s a bit skimpy and self-indulgent. On the plus side, the provocative “Alarm Call” and the controversial “All Is Full Of Love” shine brightly.  

“Screaming Masterpiece”

Screaming Masterpiece: El legado musical de Islandia

This is not a Bjork release. But since any documentary about the music of Iceland must begin and end with the word Bjork, this fascinating study is loaded with rare Bjork concert footage and rare video clips. Additionally, the artist is interviewed extensively regarding the pop music explosion of the worlds youngest and most volatile landmass. Essential purchase for Bjork the completest.

Bjork + Biophilia + Bowl = Brilliant (Concert Review)

Bjork at The Hollywood Bowl – (06/11/13)


More Bjork?..click>>>>  medullabiophiliaolympicsMatmos /bjork

Reviewed by Dale Nickey:

After three intimate in-the-round performances at the Hollywood Palladium, planet Bjork landed at The Hollywood Bowl Tuesday night for one last blast of the potent nature/technology/music cocktail that is her current Biophilia project.  One wonders if the Hollywood-specific focus of her efforts is, in any way, a statement to Tinseltown that there is more to Bjork  than the much ballyhooed swan dress that she wore at the 2001 Oscar ceremony.  Probably not.  She has never been known to give a crap about celebrity gossip.

No matter, the assembled multitude at The Bowl will only remember Bjork and Graduale Nobili (Icelandic ‘choir girls gone wild’) performing a generous, lavish set of outsider Art-Pop.  Bjork has recovered fully from throat surgery that forced date cancellations earlier in the tour.  If you’re worried about the state of her voice, don’t.  She pushed the degree of difficulty and stuck every landing.  And, if the adoring Bowl throng was disappointed at not hearing fan favorites “Isobel”, “Human Behavior”, or “Bachlorette”, they didn’t show it.  Give Bjork her props;  she held a canyon full of hyperactive metrosexuals and millennials spellbound with a set of brainy, complex, and (for the most part) downbeat selections from her latest album “Biophilia”,  as well as some eclectic offerings from her back catalog.

After the audience bestowed their patience on the sacrificial opening act, our heroine made sure we cooled our heals in the parlor an appropriate amount of time before she deigned to descend the staircase and receive callers.  All the while a curt text message appeared on the five massive video screens (in Spanish and English) informing us that her majesty did not appreciate bootleg recording or I-phone waving at the expense of her performance…tank yu…

Initially, this writer had some concern about the diminutive warrior princess getting lost in the vast expanse of The Hollywood Bowl.  Fears were put to rest quickly with the opener “Cosmology”. The video images were celestial and stunning.  More important, they were relevant. Bjork’s latest work “Biophilia” is an album length love letter to nature in all its forms and substructures. Deep space, moon, rock crystals and microscopic organisms. The resulting live show is equal parts multi-media rock extravaganza and x-treme power point presentation.

One small beef was that Bjork only appeared on the big screen once during her performance. That was on the second song “Hunter”.  It was a tease not to be repeated.

Sound was precise, full, clear and excellent throughout.  Sonic integrity was even maintained during the mega-decibel set closer “Nattura”, where Bjork and the girls let their hair down and had a collective spazz attack while flames engulfed the stage.

There was a scarcity of classic material on the set list.  However, when Bjork did lob a chart hit into the audience it was gobbled up voraciously like sharks to chum.  “Joga” (from Homogenic) was moving and poignant; an emotional highlight.  Also, “Possibly Maybe” benefited greatly from a post-modern makeover from her skilled and focused two- piece band.  Again, a shout out to Graduale Nobili .  Refreshingly free of spandex and danskins;  all of them sang their asses off,  all of them had a blast,  and all were real  flesh and blood beauties who looked like they didn’t mind eating a healthy meal.

In the end, Bjork rewarded our adoration with three encore pieces.  First off was a gorgeous a cappella workout by the girls titled “Oskasteiner”.  Then Bjork came out sporting some sort of spiked plastic head-wear. She then gave us a proper orgasm with “Hyperballad”.  When Bjork and band finally floored the gas pedal on “Declare Independence”, she had all the shiny happy people dancing in the aisles.

It’s nice to know that in this dystopian, Duck Dynasty world, it’s still possible to enjoy an alien visitation. In our time and place, Bjork is as close to an extraterrestrial as we’re likely to get. Seeing her live should definitely be on your bucket list.  Because, like the snow leopard; when she’s gone, that’s it, show’s over. There won’t be another coming along to replace her.


Top 10 “Story Songs” # 2 Bobbie Gentry (Ode To Billy Joe)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Number 2 …..

Ode To Billy Joe – Bobbie Gentry (1967)

Click for other story songs>>>>>> 10  9  8 7 6 5 4 3 1 

Southern Gothic meets Twin Peaks. Just as circle jerks around the water cooler in 1990 proffered theories on ‘who killed Laura Palmer?’ So did we muse and ponder in 1967 exactly what the hell it was that Billy Joe McAllister threw off the Tallahatchie Bridge? It was such an enigma that a feature length movie was produced based on the lyrics to the song.

In many ways, Bobbie Gentry was the Kate Bush of her time and place. Like Bush, Gentry was a white hot classic brunette with a lot going on under the hood. She was one of the first female country music artists to pen her own material (Kate was the first Brit female to pen a number 1).  And, after the hoopla and lucre generated by “Ode”, Gentry began a slow but sure retreat from celebrity. By the late 70’s had removed herself from the harsh spotlight of performing and had chosen the soft afterglow of domesticity (ala’ Kate).

 “Ode To Billy Joe” is a humid, steamy invocation of rural, Deep South culture.  Gentry’s near Bossa Nova guitar plucking has the thick, stagnant funk of swamp gas on a hot, August Delta night.   The string arrangement is as greasy as bacon drippings. Gentry obviously embodied small town Southern culture,  yet crafted ‘Ode..’ with a narrative punch that should remind us that our perception of the double- wide, cousin humpin’ Deep South (formed by a thousand Deliverance jokes) must also include towering literary icons like Falkner, Twain and Tennessee Williams.  Rooted deep in the saga of ‘Ode To Billie Joe’ is agrarian plantation society – although built on the backs of conscripted humanity- it still gave us a culture rich in art, architecture and a certain ironic civility we call Southern hospitality.


The story is set around the dinner table. The news is disseminated that local boy Billy Joe has jumped to his death off the Tallahatchie Bridge. Ominous plot points and mundane family chatter are intermingled as the chronology of events slowly unfolds:  

 Papa said to mama as he passed around the black-eyed peas,
“Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense,
pass the biscuits, please.”
“There’s five more acres in the lower forty I’ve got to plow.”
Mama said it was shame about Billy Joe, anyhow.

Exotic theories abounded regarding the various unanswered mysteries imbedded in the song. Gentry wisely never made any attempt to explain or reveal them. Her masterpiece had been painted; never again to be equaled or duplicated.