So I’ve talked about ‘breakup albums’ before in this series, many of which stand as some of the most evocative and emotional records that an artist can make, delving into a relationship’s dissolution in real time and exploring the often complex situation to mine some sort of deeper meaning or closure. But what gets talked about a lot less is what comes after, when the emotions behind the breakup are settled, and while the memory might linger, there are new paths and opportunities going forward. Records that take this sort of direct sequel approach are much rarer, mostly because the emotional dynamic is actually trickier: the breakup provides context for the journey of the album’s protagonist, but it can’t overshadow the primary emotions running through it, and that’s a tough balance to walk, both in lyrics and performance.
Enter Bjork, one of the most boundary-pushing artists in the past thirty years and easily one of the most challenging – and while I’ve talked about how it took me a while to come around on her work, the past two years since I reviewed Vulnicura has only deepened my affection for her records and her artistic process. And while I was a tad annoyed that her only creative partner on this project Utopia was Arca – an electronic producer who with every project and collaboration continues to run out his clock in my books – I was very intrigued by where Bjork wanted to take this. For one, she described this record as her ‘tinder record’, where she was looking to find that new love and passion, but she was also looking to explore and dissect utopian ideals, the Paradisio to Vulnicura’s Inferno. Now I did have some reservations – not only was this her longest record at over an hour, utopian ideas tend to be tough to crack or make palatable to our quasi-dystopian world… but on the other hand, Bjork is a genius, her interviews before the record showed she was plenty aware and capable of the difficult task ahead of her, and considering the sonic palette was reportedly calling back to Vespertine – Bjork’s second best record after Post – I was really excited for this. So, what did I find in Utopia?