Selmasongs by Björk (Review)

Björk’s voice has never been better, nor has her writing seemed so focused.
Selmasongs, Björk

This is Björk’s version of Dancer in the Dark. The songs are all beautifully constructed echoes of old musicals underpinned by clattering rhythms. Björk’s voice has never been better, nor has her writing seemed so focused. It also seems lush and radiant in sharp contrast with the film. Bear in mind that the songs come from when Selma is daydreaming, so of course it is pure escapism.

Note: This review contains spoilers for the movie Dancer in the Dark.

“Overture” (accompanying a black screen at the film’s start) is a swelling, stately orchestra piece. The texture thickens up to full orchestra and then slides away to be replaced by the machinery loop of “Cvalda” (Selma begins to be lulled into a musical by repetitive factory sounds). The clatter of electronics gives way to a dance number with trumpets blasting out, violins rising and Björk joyfully singing with the machines.

“I’ve Seen It All” is an attempt to convince her boyfriend that blindness is welcome. A train rattles slowly past as Thom Yorke is less than convinced that she doesn’t want to see her grandson. The sharp, witty vocals are delivered with real depth by the pair, and are uniquely moving. “Scatterheart” sounds like a farewell to her son, but is the farewell to the man she has killed. The gramophone crackle opens out to some sinister rhythms and Björk whispers notes of regret and pity for the world. Her voice is in top form throughout the album, but she is at her most evocative here.

“In the Musicals” is a much needed lighter note. The sounds woven from shoes squeaking and tap dancing flies up into a flurry of joyful strings. Then it hushes down to the sounds of the courtroom artists as she is tried for murder… but she is taken over by her love of musicals and the dance takes over. It embodies the absolutely innocent ecstasy and the thrill of just losing yourself in hard times. “107 Steps” was regarded by most British journalists as the low point (“Björk yelps out numbers like [a] deranged bingo caller”). In the film she is only able to move from solitary confinement to the noose if her guard taps out a rhythm and counts the steps… It isn’t bad but it does help if you understand it.

It ends here with Björk/Selma’s grisly death, and “A New World” is the end credit song, a full version of the overture that echoes “My Favourite Things” from The Sound of Music, except that these are things she will miss when blind (and in fact dead). It soars into the stratosphere propelled by timpani and Björk’s voice. It is so good. It’s really, really good. But see the film at your peril, because you will just cry and cry until you feel thoroughly ashamed of yourself. It’s that good.

Written by Paul Morton.