Months before the Sugar Cubes’ first album debuted in the United States, a heavy buzz began to circulate about the group’s lead singer, Björk. It was weird enough that the group hailed from Iceland, but Björk’s eerie yelps, shrieks, girlish whispers and leather-lunged vocal acrobatics transported the band into another head space entirely. The word invariably used to describe Björk’s synapse-bending vocals was feral. Songs such as “Motorcrash” and “Delicious Demon” were supercharged tours de force.
In concert, however, two things became abundantly clear about the Sugar Cubes: First, Björk could deliver the goods; second, the Sugar Cubes’ stage act seemed dangerously close to bad performance art. On two subsequent albums, the Cubes abandoned their blunt rock attack for a trendy Euro-dance sound. Björk’s vocals were lost amid the electronic clatter. People wondered if it wasn’t time for Björk to light out on her own.
She did, and Debut is the utterly disappointing result. Rather than sticking to rock & roll, Debut is painfully eclectic. On “Come to Me” and “Venus as a Boy” Björk adds not just a string section but an entire orchestra from India. It’s more intrusive than galvanizing. Likewise, on the jazz standard “Like Someone in Love,” Björk is accompanied by a harp — not the kind Little Walter played. Only on the opening track, “Human Behavior,” do we get a glimmer of what the fuss was all about.
Producer Nellee Hooper (Sin&233;ad O’Connor, Soul II Soul) has sabotaged a ferociously iconoclastic talent with a phalanx of cheap electronic gimmickry. Björk’s singular skills cry out for genuine band chemistry, and instead she gets Hooper’s Euro art-school schlock — and we do, too.