Army of Me - Remixes and Covers
ackground: Björk's most covered song was opened up on her website for anyone and everyone to remix in order to create a charity record for Unicef with the proceeds going to the victims of the 2004 Tsunami disaster. Six hundred submissions were whittled down to twenty by Björk and Graham Massey.
Now, like most people I’m all for charitable causes, but this is one of those times when you wish folk would just hand over the cash. Army of Me - Remixes and Covers is the first Björk release to be categorised as truly awful (that PJ Harvey duet was never officially set loose) and is not an easy or particularly agreeable listen for fans of any genre, let alone Björk fans. Twenty versions of the same song were never going to a painless ride even for something as originally catchy as “Army of Me.”
Massey and Björk seem to have gone down the route of selecting and representing as many examples of genres as possible, as opposed to covers that actually sounded like they were doing something new with the song’s content. This is the album’s downfall. You’ve got your crunchy metal (Interzone), your comedic country (The Messengers of God), your quirky Atari electronics (50hertz), and even your obligatory accordion version (Martin White). They are all unmistakeably “Army of Me” and follow the song’s lyrics and structure to the letter. The point? Showing that the song can be switched from style to style easily. The result? Many of the versions are merely directly transposed into the genre with obvious identifying clichés attached. Its not like fans of horrendous European Grunge Rock will be flocking to the Björk section of your local mom and pop record store after hearing French rockers HEMP do a bad rock “Army of Me.”
Some of these covers manage flashes of interest, even though on the whole the record induces fingernail inspecting and daydreaming. Grisbi’s dull bossa nova version stands out due to its cutesy vocals, Syntax’n’Turbo drop some silly Maypole chant into the middle of a middling electro take, but mostly its weak stuff, like Mikhail Karikis’ version, which builds itself from Björk’s guttural between-word sounds. It might’ve been nice to hear more acts exploring the song’s theme or twisting it in a new direction like spooky London Harp crew Lunamouth. Using the original lyrics but reverbing and shaking them over an incredibly eerie harp backing, they bend the notes as spooky noises play under an increasingly paced wind. Patrick Wolf’s “Army of Klaus” remix sees him buck the low standards trend of both his own career and this compilation with a tremendous percussive dark DHR opera in which he mixes a Dictaphone sample taken from a live Björk gig and his own Klaus Nomi influenced wailing.
The blame for the weaknesses of the album lies solely with Massey and Gudmundsdottir instead of the individual artists who gave their work to this release. Where listeners would normally be correctly expecting the Björk seal of quality to provide something avant garde or beautiful (or even a barrier merging compilation) this is neither and isn’t something anyone will be returning to in a hurry. For some this compilation will be seen as another Selmasongs type release, something that can be snipped from the official canon, nothing more than an unnecessary footnote to an essential back catalogue; a well intentioned crap curio.
And just a thought: Am I the only one to think the sentiment behind the lyric "Stand up you've got to manage / I won't sympathise anymore / Self-sufficience please and get to work" is an odd one for a charity record?
Reviewed by: Scott McKeating
Reviewed on: 2005-07-28