On her stubbornly conceptual fifth solo LP, Björk mostly cares about blowing -- almost all of Medulla's sounds were generated from human mouths. Nothing sucks the fun out of a record like a pretentious concept, but she's capable of pulling off this stuffy idea because at her core (her medulla, if you will), Björk is a pop artist whose success is due to talent as much as ambition, particularly when it comes to choosing appropriate collaborators (around twenty of them on this album, including beatboxer Rahzel and experimental rock vocalist Mike Patton, and that isn't even counting the various choirs that appear). Not since 1995's Post has she made a song as catchy as the insta-classic "Who Is It (Carry My Joy On the Left, Carry My Pain On the Right)." The track is an exuberant onslaught of hooks, building a thick tapestry of wailing monkey noises and percussive tones.

As radical as Medulla seems, though, Björk is really just substituting a band (or programmed beats and bleeps) with a cappella replicas. Her innovation is just textural, a minor victory in the face of the uncomfortably high-pitched shrillness she and her guests produce. She manages to produce strong melodies on "Oceania" and "Where is the Line," but for every great pop track, there's at least one listening chore on which she takes herself too seriously ("Vökuró," or "Vigil" in Icelandic) or not seriously enough (the manipulated wheezing on "Ancestors" sounds stupider than Kate Bush at her stupidest).

So why is Björk being so difficult on herself and us? For better and worse, the answer is simple: because she can be.


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