When Björk puts out a new album, it’s always an event. The lady does take her time between studio albums, but the wait is always worth it. Over the past decade, few female artists have matched the quality of the full-length releases of Ms. Guðmundsdóttir, as Debut, Post, Homogenic, and Vespertine all burst with life and crackle with her inimitable energy and passion (well, okay, Selmasongs was a bit of a hiccup). As first-rate as those records are, however, in the two years following 2002’s Vespertine, Björk has proceeded to test the loyalty of her many fans by unloading compilations, box sets, and DVDs to the point of complete overkill. No artist in the past couple years, not even Kiss, has gouged fans as much as Björk has ; since late 2002, we’ve seen a greatest hits disc, the exhaustive and eccentric Family Tree box set, a four-CD live box set (with an extra DVD), not to mention a whopping six DVDs. Throw in two recently-released Sugarcubes DVDs and the upcoming singles box set, not to mention a brand new album later this year, and it’s understandable how some people might feel somewhat Björked out. Any devoted fan who wants to have the complete Björk collection now has to spend at least a couple hundred dollars just to keep up. But wait, she’s not done yet. The latest heap of Björkabilia to be forced upon the public are four live CDs, chronicling various stages of her solo career. Essentially, the discs are lifted straight from 2003’s Live Box set, minus the bonus DVD. So should devoted fans who already have the box set care ? No, not one iota. For casual Björk fans, though, these CDs offer a nice little treat ; after all, everyone who likes Björk has their own favorite album, and this series allows people to hear her and her band pull off that specific material in a live setting.
If you’re one of many who have grown to love the 1995 Post album over the past nine years, then Post Live is sure to please, even though it’s a bit of a bumpy ride. It doesn’t help things that two-thirds of the CD features selections from her February, 1997 performance at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire, which has already been out on DVD since late 2001. Still, despite the fact that the entire Shepherd’s Bush set might have fit on one disc, the nine tracks that are there really shine. In fact, Björk and her five-piece band are on fire on this recording, deftly combining organic instrumentation with electronic improvisation. The mellow “Headphones” is given a much more passionate treatment than the original album version, while “Army of Me” is explosive, the electronic beats accentuated by the drumming of Trevor Morais. Programmer Leila Arab displays some terrific improvisational skill on “Enjoy”, and Yasuhiro Kubayahsi steals the show on “The Modern Things”, “Isobel”, and “Anchor Song”, as he replaces the string sections heard on the studio versions with a simpler, much more intimate sounding accordion accompaniment. The Debut standout “Big Time Sensuality” is given a much more minimal treatment, as subtle instrumental touches float around Arab’s gently hyperkinetic jungle beats.
Unfortunately, the momentum of the Shepherd’s Bush performances is nearly brought to a complete halt on the four tracks recorded for television. “Possibly Maybe”, recorded for BBC’s Later...With Jools Holland in 1995, is given a surreal country treatment, complete with pedal steel, the whole arrangement sounding too clumsy despite Björk’s tender vocals. The lovely “Hyperballad” (also performed on Jools Holland) is nice enough, but lacks the passion you hear in her band’s performance in the Shepherd’s Bush concert. The recording of “I Miss You”, from TFI Friday in early 1996, sounds weakly produced, as does “It’s Oh So Quiet”, the live horn section unable to match the punch of the original album version. On those two latter tracks, Björk might as well have been singing at a karaoke bar, as the performances lack any of the improvisational skill of Björk’s band during the London concert.
Yes, this CD has its flaws, such as it being a paltry 54 minutes long, and the fact that it would have been better off if the entire Shepherd’s Bush set been on the CD, but despite the odd bump or two, Björk saves the day with her incomparable voice, which seems to elevate to another level in a live setting. She sounds so in love with life when she sings, whether she’s cooing softly, chirping along to a cheesy big band arrangement, or belting out her charmingly enigmatic lyrics with gusto. Few singers are such a thrill to hear live, as this disc ultimately proves.