Björk – her 20 greatest songs ranked!

Ahead of her ambitious Cornucopia tour reaching the UK in November, we select the greatest work by the Icelandic pop-polymath

20. It’s in Our Hands (2002)

An overlooked gem, tacked on to the end of her fan-selected Greatest Hits collection, It’s in Our Hands is a sublime slice of future R&B conjured up in collaboration with the avant-techno duo Matmos. There is a particularly spicy and formidable version included on the Vespertine Live album.

19. Quicksand (2015)

Vulnicura at its most agitated; the arrangement would be beautiful if it weren’t for the fact that it is allied to sudden sampled vocal interjections and a furious barrage of post-drum’n’bass rhythms that seem to stop, start and shift randomly. Björk sounds as if she is barely keeping her emotions under control. Tough but powerful listening.

18. Triumph of a Heart (2005)

The perfect example of Medulla’s ability to conjure up magic from unlikely ingredients, Triumph of a Heart is built around a cacophony of rhythmic voices, recalling human beatboxing and the vocal representations of Indian percussion on Sheila Chandra’s Speaking in Tongues. It gradually builds momentum until it sounds unstoppable; the melody, meanwhile, is gleeful.

Already electrifying … Björk in 1995.
Already electrifying … Björk in 1995. Photograph: Jane Bown/The Observer

17. Play Dead (1993)

Björk’s first two albums often feel like scrapbooks of musical ideas floating around the non-Britpop 90s: house, trip-hop, the Chemical Brothers’ distorted breaks, Aphex-y electronica. Co-written with the Bond composer David Arnold and Jah Wobble, Play Dead keys into the era’s revival of interest in soundtracks and easy listening, but never sounds like a pastiche: the song is too dramatic and powerful.

16. Army of Me (1995)

The opening track of Post was, apparently, the sound of Björk telling her brother to buck his ideas up. But Army of Me also works as a ferocious statement of individual artistic intent (“Self-sufficiency, please! / And get to work”) bedecked with John Bonham drums and dirty synthesiser. Either way, it sounds electrifying.

15. Earth Intruders (2007)

Björk has always had great taste when it comes to collaborators – never more so than on Earth Intruders, which pitches the hip-hop auteur Timbaland against the Congolese “all-powerful likembe orchestra” Konono No 1 to startling effect. It is a fizzing, electrifying blast of beats and distorted thumb-piano that embodies the lyrics: “metallic carnage ferocity”.

14. Venus As a Boy (1993)

Apparently Björk’s most-covered song – something like 30 different versions exist – Venus As a Boy sounds utterly lovestruck: “His wicked sense of humour / Suggests exciting sex”. Its infectiously giddy mood is potentiated by the sound of an Indian orchestra, recorded in Mumbai by Talvin Singh.

13. Pagan Poetry (2001)

Björk’s original concept for Vespertine involved having “icy”-sounding musical boxes specially made. You can hear the results fluttering alongside a harp on Pagan Poetry, a track that starts out being serene and chilled, and gradually works up a striking erotic charge as it goes. The moment when everything dies away except Björk singing “I love him” is among the most powerful in her catalogue.

The Oscars dress that everyone remembers …
The Oscars dress that everyone remembers … Photograph: Rex

12. Arisen My Senses (2017)

On one level, Arisen My Senses sounds like chaos: crashing rhythms and overlapping voices that render the lyrics largely incomprehensible, alongside unpredictable scatterings of harp and explosions of electronics. As a musical representation of the dizziness of new love, however, it is perfect.

11. I’ve Seen It All (2000)

The problem with pretending to lay an egg on the Oscars red carpet is that it will overshadow the song you are there to perform: more people know about Björk’s swan dress than Selmasongs’ centrepiece I’ve Seen It All, a disturbing, dark duet with Thom Yorke. Its luscious, swirling strings are underpinned by a train-track rhythm and its eerie mood is hard to shake.

10. Cosmogony (2011)

Björk’s later albums are conceptual pieces that invariably work better as a whole: something is lost by removing individual songs from their context. That said, the sense of wonder that informs Biophilia’s scientific explorations is perfectly summarised by Cosmogony’s sighing array of electronics, brass and wordless voices, her wide-eyed vocal and its almost showtune-like chorus.

9. Stonemilker (2015)

Björk’s divorce album, Vulnicura, is frequently demanding – but rewarding – listening, the sound reflecting the raw emotions it deals with. But Stonemilker’s music is at odds with its lyrical despondency: Arca’s echoing beats nestling beneath a beautiful string arrangement, with the intensity of her vocal married to an exquisite melody.

All Is Full of Love.

8. All Is Full of Love (1997)

Its Chris Cunningham-directed video attracted so much attention that the song behind it occasionally gets overlooked. But All Is Full of Love is utterly beautiful without any accompanying visuals: romantic, optimistic and drowsily erotic. A perfect sliver of electronic soul.

7. Big Time Sensuality (1993)

Debut offered two opposing views of early-90s dancefloor hedonism – the self-explanatory There’s More to Life Than This v Big Time Sensuality’s glorious, saucer-eyed paean to ecstasy: “I know I’m a bit too intimate / But something huge is coming up.” The Fluke remix trumps the album version, setting her delirious growls to chugging electronics.

6. Hidden Place (2001)

It says something about Björk’s gradual drift away from the mainstream that Hidden Place was Vespertine’s lead single. It’s a world away from the simple DayGlo pleasure of It’s Oh So Quiet, but it’s a stunning song: tentative new love wrapped in glitchy electronics and otherworldly choral vocals.

5. Future Forever (2017)

Björk described her most recent album Utopia as “paradise” compared with the “hell” of its predecessor, Vulnicura. Nowhere was that clearer than on the gorgeous, sparse, dreamlike drift of Future Forever, where the airy soundscape supports a movingly optimistic lyric: “Imagine a future and be in it … the past is a loop, turn it off.”

4. Who Is It? (2004)

The lead single from Medulla, an album constructed almost entirely from vocals, hits a glorious sweet spot between experimentation and commerciality. The sound – a mass of occasionally discordant voices and beatboxing – is thrillingly alien and strange, but it resolves into a chorus that is both irresistible and pure pop.

3. Declare Independence (2008)

Björk isn’t exactly known as a protest singer, but the distorted electronic punk of Declare Independence is a startling addition to the genre: originally inspired by Greenland and the Faroe Islands’ relationship with Denmark, it is potent and nonspecific enough to apply to anything from #MeToo to Black Lives Matter to the Free Tibet movement: “Don’t let them do that to you!”

2. Jóga (1997)

An epic demonstration of Björk’s vocal abilities. A richly orchestrated, industrial-beat-driven examination of the intense emotions that lurk beneath close friendships, Jóga is a fabulous song that also feels remarkably ahead of the curve. The drop midway through seems to presage the rise of dubstep.

The Hyperballad video

1. Hyperballad (1995)

Björk has made far more experimental and adventurous music than Hyperballad, a relatively straightforward track by her later standards. But whether she has ever written a better song is a different question. Its soaring chorus is the most life-affirming moment in her back catalogue, and the arrangement, which shifts from ambient electronics to cinematic strings, is beautifully done. The point almost exactly halfway through where its stuttering rhythm is replaced by a relentless four-to-the-floor house beat is the perfect example of how a simple idea, neatly applied, can take your breath away.


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The GuardianTramp

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