Dull Flame of Desire

June 13, 2007 at 12:00 am 10 comments

I’m not a fan of Antony Hegarty, and his presence on this track was initially worrisome to me. Antony is a wonderful singer, but I think his persona and voice usually drips with sickly sincerity. When he’s campily belting out a dance tune, he’s actually quite endurable, but most of the time he’s sweating under a bag wig, moaning about his transgenderism and lashing out at misogynistic music reviewers. (I’m always amazed by the ability of intellectuals to endure the scourge of sincerity when it’s coming from someone with art-house signifiers but not when the person is, say, Britney Spears.)

Bjork, on the other hand, doesn’t do sincerity very well. Like Beyonce, everything for Bjork is an open show, as frankly artificial as it is beautiful. And Bjork is probably at her least sincere on Volta: the whole album is very clear and upfront, and the emotions of her songs feel purposely denuded of their interiority. It’s a curiously overthought and negative way of presenting pop music, and it is probably the cause of some of the album’s problems (as well as its unexpected strengths).

With this strange mix of factors, it is a relief to see that “Dull Flame” is one of Volta‘s more successful tracks. It is an odd love song: despite its love lyrics, it isn’t very romantic and it is slightly cold. It’s more in line with the way love songs used to be presented – as sprightly objects of beauty – than the Conor Oberst sad-sackery that we tend to expect. The song is Romantic with a capital “R”: rather than Homogenic‘s sweeping swings, the horns sound like they were lifted from some late 19th century patriotic Nordic tune.

In this environment, Bjork clearly excells more than Antony. I tend to drift away whenever Antony begins singing, but Bjork brings me right back. When you are striving for such a cold beauty, you have to sound like you are working your ass off, that you are earning it. Antony just sounds a little freaked out – stripped of his emotional come-ons, he’s directionless – and he can only manage some good runs when he is backing Bjork or when his neurotic compactness contrasts with her fearlessness. Bjork, in contrast, is swimming with the current. It’s her song, after all, and she has a wider vocabulary of tones to work with and that keep listeners interested over the song’s taxing seven-odd minutes.

And despite some problems and a smidge of boredom, Bjork can make “Dull Flame” excite. Most particularly, I love when she repeats the chorus for the final time, and Brian Chippendale’s drumming becomes the only accompaniment to her crystalline and final repetition of “desire.” Every time I hear it, I get a shiver from the song’s icy, tribal beauty.


Entry filed under: Volta.

In The Musicals Where Is The Line

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. stingo  |  June 13, 2007 at 7:17 am

    I don’t understand how a song that “is not very romantic” is Romantic with a capital “R”.

    Otherwise, I fully agree with the review. It’s by far my favourite song off “Volta”.

  • 2. Professor Batty  |  June 13, 2007 at 9:13 am

    … a local DJ aired that track (she had never listened to it) and she pulled it before it was done, apologizing for playing it! B is doing that song solo in her recent concerts, I think I might like it better- I’d have to rate it as the all time worst Bjork track!

  • 3. Matthew  |  June 13, 2007 at 10:33 am

    Stingo: I meant that it’s romantic as in the Romantic period – the 19th century arts movement. Sorry that wasn’t clear.
    I definitely don’t think it’s the worst Bjork track – there are other songs of hers that are just blaaaah that I find more annoying. “Dull Flame” definitely has moments of greatness. It’s just Antony and the running time that cripple it.

  • 4. stingo  |  June 13, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    OK, I wondered about that after I posted my comment. Thanks!

  • 5. bless  |  June 19, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    I LOVE THAT SONG. i wish the whole album was more like that song.

  • 6. Mark Cotton  |  July 23, 2007 at 2:14 pm

    And all this time I thought it was Boz Skaggs singing with her.

  • 7. amy  |  December 5, 2007 at 9:52 am

    i think song is uberly cool; its so deep and romantic, i’ve never really been a fan of the ‘kooky’ bjork but this is a very lovely song. i disagree with your view on the male vocals, i do believe if the song was minus said male vocals, then the song would not fufil excellence like it does.
    also i think the running times alreet it is a bit long like.

  • 8. Ron Jones  |  January 2, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Great Review – Do you have any others?

  • 9. spabelo  |  April 2, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    Does a “bag wig” look more like a bag or a wig? Or both? Or is it like Batman’s old nemesis Two-Face- it looks like a bag from one profile side, and then a wig from the other. Whatever, I am going to go make one now.

  • 10. David  |  June 19, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    by far the best and most interesting track on an otherwise dull album. Typically Bjork as it is different and excellently executed, so what if he’s a bit odd? one of my favourite Bjork tracks overall.


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