[I]Bon appetit... [/I]
Musicals suck. Witness all that corny bursting into song, the gross oompah of the big numbers, the crocodile tears of the solo turns. Camp irony be damned: musicals are an obscenity in the lexicons of music and drama alike; feeling replacement therapy for the middle of age and brow. Get thee behind us, Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The soundtracks to these are worse abominations still. Their purchase is a final loss of cultural dignity, a cry for help: end it all, now! Cue swelling strings, farting tuba and a big pink bouquet for the lady.
And yet… between them, Danish director Lars Von Trier (words, script, camera) and Bjvrk (music and costume-chewing) have turned this common sense on its head. They’ve created a record, ‘SelmaSongs’, that is at once deeply moving, sonically radical [I]and[/I] the soundtrack to a musical film, the Palme d’Or-winning [I]’Dancer In the Dark'[/I].
So ‘SelmaSongs’ – literally, the songs sung by Bjvrk‘s character Selma – exhibits many a hallmark of hokery. There are duets in character, with both Thom Yorke (replacing a cast member) and, more unusually, [I]grande[/I] film [I]dame[/I] Catherine Deneuve. There are orgasmic orchestras, and flashes of slapstick that could illustrate Tom chasing Jerry. On this level, it’s ‘Oh So Quiet’ writ large, Bjvrk thrilling in schmaltzy convention (even as Von Trier‘s dark hand tears it up in the film). And it’s great. She may not have written the words, but Bjvrk‘s emotional investment in songs like ‘I’ve Seen It All’ (really sad) and ‘Scatterheart’ ([I]really really sad[/I]) is undeniable; making this album – ‘in character’ as poor, doomed Selma – totally seductive as A Bjvrk Record.
The sounds, of course, are undeniably hers. This is where ‘SelmaSongs’ leaves its panstick and production hissy-fits behind. Inspired by the industrial grind of Selma‘s world, the beats literally come out of train-tracks, machinery and a record stuck in a groove, inviting comparisons to [I]musique concrete[/I] and experimental electronica (so-called ‘glitch house’). But for every ‘difficult’ ‘Cvalda’ (a boisterous clankfest with Bjvrk gleefully yowling [I]”Clatter! Crash! Bang!”[/I] in an under-tens music workshop stylee), there’s a ‘New World’, a Massive Attack-with-guest-vocalist groove.
Indeed, one of the strangest and most rewarding things about this record is how un-weird it is.
How listenable, despite its musical challenges. How truthful, despite the studied nature of its conception and the drama of its making. How seamless the join between its brave digitals and traditional strings’n’brass. And how emotionally involving, even if you don’t yet know the full horror of Selma‘s celluloid tale. As an added bonus, it’s the only place (save Polly Harvey‘s new record) you’ll hear Thom Yorke in the vicinity of a melody.
However asymmetrically it’s cut, the Technicolour dreamcoat fits Bjvrk well. [I]Bon appetit. [/I]