It may seem crazy to say so, but Bjork and Mariah Carey sometimes seem like sisters — twisted ones at that. Think about it: Both are divas with singular pipes and acting joneses, both are inclined to use their first names on album covers, and both have a taste for attire that is, to be kind, peculiar. And both share a roller-coaster loopiness — evidenced this year in ways amusing (Bjork’s unfortunate choice of Oscar-ceremony garb) and not (reports of Carey’s pitiable breakdown).
Glitter is Carey’s new album and the soundtrack to the film of the same name, in which she plays an up-and-coming pop star in the ’80s. According to her website, the songs were ”carefully selected to reflect the time period.” That should have made the album (delayed, at press time, until Sept. 11) a camp classic, but with few exceptions — a respectable remake of ”Last Night a DJ Saved My Life” and a cheeseball, faux-Prince-sounding cover of ”I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” — very little of Glitter suggests big hair, leggings, and headbands. Instead, it’s Mariah, business as usual: a few overemoted ballads, a few doses of lite-FM hip-hop, all of it as gauzy and shapeless as her previous work. (We’re subjected to not one but two versions of the threadbare ”Loverboy,” which continues the Mariah Minimalist Movement begun with 1999’s ”Heartbreaker.”) The dichotomy between her styles on Glitter is further proof of her split madonna/whore musical complex: One minute she’s a wide-eyed innocent, the next minute she’s ”Wilma M. Holla,” as her party-girl persona is referred to on the album.
If you’re looking for intimations of her collapse within Glitter, you’ll find only hints, just enough for one cow to chew on. Carey certainly sounds a tad unhinged, unleashing several avalanches of eardrum-puncturing wails and laughing in the middle of ”All My Life,” an innocuous collaboration with dubious role model Rick James. She laments the end of a relationship several times, most believably on ”Reflections (Care Enough)” — typical Ma-riah schlock sung with crushed-flower loneliness. Other times, she’s like her recent outfits — barely there. On several tracks, she’s reduced to cooing maniacally in the background while rappers like Ja Rule and Mystikal run with the ball. Then there’s ”Twister,” a ballad her handlers maintain was written about the recent suicide of her stylist. ”Feelin’ kinda fragile and I’ve got a lot to handle/But I guess this is my way of saying goodbye,” she exhales. Glitter is a mess, but its shameless genre hopping (and Carey’s crash) makes it an unintentional concept album about the toll of relentless careerism.
A few years back, Carey called one of her albums Music Box; ”Frosti,” a track on Bjork’s Vespertine, is an instrumental played on…a music box. But seriously, Bjork’s first full album after her acclaimed role in Dancer in the Dark, Vespertine (out Aug. 28) marks a genuine left turn. Veering away from the strings-und-drang approach of 1997’s Homogenic, she’s made her quietest, most subdued record — a collection of in-and-outta-love meditations set to airport-music keyboards, dragged-foot rhythms, and the occasional angelic choir and plucked harp. When it all comes together, as on ”Hidden Place” or ”It’s Not Up to You,” Bjork and her electronica collaborators create moving interplanetary chorals. Vespertine is also her most erotic work. The intimate details tucked into ”Cocoon” and ”Harm of Will,” like the music, connect the physical with the spiritual.
Bjork remains an eccentric creature. On Vespertine, her lyrics occasionally dive into the deep end (”threading the glacier head”?), and her voice is at times stiff, as if the Iceland-born singer is working her way through the lyrics phonetically. Yet like a distaff Radiohead, Bjork demands admiration for the way in which she relentlessly jiggers with her vision. (In fact, Vespertine is a better companion to Kid A than Amnesiac is.) For all of her quirks, she still seems grounded. Perhaps Mariah should seek a little R&R in Bjork’s neck of the woods. Glitter: C Vespertine: B+