The Sugarcubes made a big impact on the American alternative music scene when they arrived in 1988. While the band was fascinating for those of us who had never encountered any aspect of Icelandic popular culture, it was the bands leader Bjork that was the source intrigue.
After 3 albums with the Sugarcubes, the question was not if but when would Björk Guðmundsdóttir would go solo. In 1993 we got our answer after the Sugarcubes finally split, as if they knew they were only keeping their little pixie of a singer from accomplishing greater things. It was around this time that Bjork would connect with producer Nellee Hooper who was at the time the man behind the most important revival of British R&B since the ’60s.
With projects from Massive Attack, Soul II Soul and Sinead O’Connor under his belt, Nellee seemed like an odd match for strangeness of Bjork, but the two wrote five of Debut’s 11 songs. The mixing of Bjork’s typically child-like approach to singling with Hooper’s street smart trip hop and house styles made for an unusually fun, interesting and surprising pop album. Despite the name, Debut was actually Bjork’s second solo album. The first was an obscure Icelandic domestic release she made before joining the Sugarcubes.
There was elements of R&B, trip hop and jazz. Noted saxophonist Oliver Lake was featured on ‘Aeroplane’. The inclusion of the sax was nothing like what had been done on almost every pop song during the ’80s, as Lake’s playing sounded more like it could have been at home on a Tom Waits song than one from INXS.
This mix of styles was also apparent on the hits ‘Venus as a Boy‘. Combining the bouncy bass that had become a Hooper trademark with Bjork’s playful and imaginative songwriting made for one of the most unusual pop songs of 1993. In all there were 5 singles, with biggest of which was ‘Human Behaviour’ , a song that managed to mix African and Asian influences and had the years most delightful surrealistic video (Bjork sings while in the belly of a bear).
It was that combination of weird, cute and dancibility that made Debut such a favorite with nearly every critic that reviewed it. In addition to going Platinum in America and achieving metallic sales status in many other nations, Debut prepped the world for more of Bjork’s unique take on the alternative rock scene with more delightfully strange work to come.