Eerie and ethereal, Björk’s “Utopia” feels like the musical equivalent of the Driftless Area, that corner of the Midwest the glaciers never touched, leaving its landscape surprisingly different from the rest of the states that surround it.
The Icelander first shocked the pop music scene with her first solo album “Debut” in 1993. Except in comparison to Sinead O’Connor, or maybe a dark Enya, her music was like nothing else on the charts at the time. That remains true.
But though it’s still mysterious, her current style is far less wild than it once was.
With each passing album, Björk drifts further from Earth and closer to an alien world the rest of us can only access through her music. It’s the ultimate witchcraft anthem, but you won’t enjoy it if you’re not in the mood to be haunted.
It’s not the bouncing, lyrically amusing beats of “Debut” and “Post.” Those albums were ferocious, fearless and youthful.
While still unlike anything else being released today, “Utopia” is organized and controlled in such a way that it feels somewhat lifeless.
With high-pitched flutes and repetitive choruses song after song, “Utopia” feels like it’s asking you to meditate or chant mantras as each tune fades into the next, similar one. It demands that you listen intently, with closed eyes.
Some key tracks: “Body Memory,” which incorporates a variety of noises into the soundscape to a creepily gorgeous effect; “Sue Me,” which uses an erratic, electrified backbeat that makes the song much more exciting than most of the album.
True, her style mellowed out early in her career, just after she starred in the 2000 film “Dancer In the Dark.” But that’s likely just the result of working with filmmaker Lars Von Trier.
Björk’s music is wistfully cosmic. If I didn’t know better, I’d call her scary Enya. (Actually, I don’t know better and think that’s a hilarious comparison.)
Björk’s relationship to Earth grows more nebulous with each album. She’s a wildly skilled musician, but with each new album, her style becomes both more alien and more alienating. And since “Utopia” is based on a set of sounds narrower even than “Vulnicura,” it gets rather boring after a few songs.
The lackluster effect of “Utopia” doesn’t come from the fact that the music is weird. Björk’s been weird since the start. But this album doesn’t do anything new. Listeners are better off returning to her early stuff for thrills.
Grade: C. The best Björk was early Björk.