We admire intelligent people, might even love the bright, but we instinctively sense something is off with the smart and clever ones. Street-smart is good, being a smart-ass definitely isn’t, and clever almost always carries an element of trying too hard, of desperately wanting to be better than the rest; standing out for the sake of standing out.
Dangerous territory for a musician. The truism that a sacred bond exists between writer and reader, the one being nothing without the other, is also true for music. Not even commercially. Some musicians sell more, some less, both have their own place in the market. Breaking the sacred bond with the listener will not necessarily impact sales, but it will impact something that is even more important: relevance.
Which makes it all the more interesting that some artists continue (to try) to alienate their audience, continue to be too clever for their own good. Case in point is Björk. Her early work is beautiful. Debut (1993), Post (1995) and Homogenic (1997) is a wonderful trilogy of albums. But then it all goes wrong. Vespertine (2001) can best be described as a boxing match between pop and art, a fight which is already over by the time we reach Medulla (2004). From here on it’s all experimentation for experimentation’s sake; the emotional oscillations of a sweaty club traded in for abstract and sterile pieces of art.
As a listener I feel abused. Critics might still love Björk’s output after Vespertine, most notably Vulnicura (2015) and Utopia (2017), but I feel like I’m part of an assessment. Am I worthy of Björk’s work? I don’t want music to be so consciously clever. I want to be seduced by it; by beauty, or ugliness, anger, love, despair and hope. I do not want to wander through music with ‘do not touch’ signs everywhere, music that seems to be made for the happy, knowledgeable few.
Damn…I probably lost you in my attempt at clever analysis. Rewind. Stop. Take those first three…that is, I repeat, Debut (1993), Post (1995) and Homogenic (1997). Listen on repeat, and realise that possibly…maybe…there is a reason to be violently happy.