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Bjrk review a spectacular vision of Utopia – The Guardian

Nov 20th, 2019

When Bjrk first conceived of the live show for her ninth studio album, 2017s lush Utopia, she envisioned something a little bit Pollyanna. Having cut short the tour for the preceding Vulnicura album owing to the emotional weight of its dense break-up songs, this was a chance to create a new world, one bathed in light. Cornucopia has been billed by Bjrk as her most elaborate staged concert to date, which is saying something considering that 2011s Biophilia jaunt utilised actual lightning to make beats. Her choice of arena-sized venues suggests that logistics won out over intimacy. Everything here is oversized, from the constantly shifting fringed screens that drape the stage made up of a collection of fungi-like pods to the crisp projections showing polymorphous alien-like flora and fauna that often engulf the 18-piece choir and the flute septet, to the dome-like reverberation chamber into which Bjrk occasionally disappears to sing without a microphone. That its predominantly soundtracked by Utopias birdcall-heavy art-pop makes it feel as if youve been shrunk and let loose in an underwater episode of Blue Planet.

Its an unnerving experience at first, with the crowd hushed as if in a theatre, all polite applause and near silence between songs. Its a respect that Bjrk resplendent in a peach ruffled dress and gold headpiece wallows in, unleashing that crystal clear voice on opener The Gate, before kicking and prodding at an imaginary figure on the gloopy Arisen My Senses. Her movements often seem to relate to a different song entirely, as if these sprawling, densely layered epics read as pop to her now. Even when cloaked in blossoming flowers or, as on the rumbling highlight Body Memory, surrounded by CGI bodies crashing into each other, she remains your main focus. When she loses her way during Hidden Place one of the few songs from her pre-2015 discography she styles it out with some trademark, wordless ad-libs, while a cute cry that flutes rock! is met with the nights only real concession to arena-sized cheering.

Undercutting the shows streamlined spectacle is Bjrks anarchic spirit. Songs such as Utopia and a reworked Mouths Cradle feel like they might implode at any point, all zigzagging beats and fluttering flutes, while 1995s Isobel which almost elicits relief when it appears mid-set starts off fairly straight before almost being upended by distorted bass. The main set closes with a run of songs that work through her messy break-up, with the self-explanatory Losss giving way to the anger of Sue Me and the fresh start of Tabula Rasa, a heartfelt plea to her daughter: Clean plate, she sings sweetly. Not repeating the fuck-ups of the fathers.

The failures of dominant power structures crop up again as environmental activist Greta Thunberg appears on screen to deliver a climate crisis wake-up call ahead of the encore. That its followed by Utopias crystalline closing track, the All Is Full of Love-referencing Future Forever, suggests that Bjrk wants to send everyone home with a glimmer of hope. Its a fake, however. She ends with Vulnicuras Notget, a gloriously unwieldy opus that lurches gravely around the refrain love will keep us safe from death and is introduced, perhaps comically, with a cheerful lets dance. Perhaps full utopia is too much for even Bjrk to conceive.

At SSE Hydro, Glasgow, 25 November; and touring.

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Bjrk review a spectacular vision of Utopia - The Guardian

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