Army of Me"Army of Me" is a song recorded by Icelandic musician Björk for her second studio album Post (1995). It was released on 21 April 1995 by One Little Indian as the lead single from the album. The song was written and produced by Björk and Graham Massey, who helped her in producing and writing the majority of her third album. Lyrically, the industrial rock song was inspired by the damaging behavior of Björk's brother, and in the lyrics she tells him to stand up and to regain control of his life. It was well received by music critics, who noted its darkness and praised Björk's energy. "Army of Me" was a commercial success and the first single from Björk to enter the top 10 on the UK Singles Chart.
Björk premiered the song on some gigs during the Debut Tour before the release of the album. She performed it in a series of TV appearances, and notably, for the first time on Top of the Pops with Skunk Anansie. Additionally, the song was performed on every date of the Post Tour. The song was featured on Björk's compilation album, Greatest Hits (2002).
The song's accompanying music video was the product of another collaboration between Björk and Michel Gondry. It features the singer driving an enormous vehicle through a city, fighting with a gorilla for re-obtaining a diamond and putting a bomb in a museum to free a boy. In 2005, Björk, to help the UNICEF, released a charity benefit compilation entitled Army of Me: Remixes and Covers, which featured a series of covers and remixes by artists from all over the world.
"Army of Me" was written in 1992 by Björk and Graham Massey, during one of the first recording sessions for Debut, along with "The Modern Things", but Björk decided to put the songs on hold and to wait for releasing them. Even so, Björk performed the songs during some dates on her Debut Tour. The singer further explained the song: "Imagine you're in a club full of heavy metal types and grunge people; 'Army of Me' is like someone's granny blasting out over the PA and saying, 'Snap out of it! Stop whining! Wash your hair! Smarten yourself up!
The single was released on April 21, 1995 as a two-CD edition. The first CD contained the Icelandic version of "You've Been Flirting Again" and the cave version of "Cover Me", both from Post. The cave version of "Cover Me" was recorded in a cave in Bahamas, and sounds of flying bats can be heard in the background. The single also contained "Sweet Intuition", a song composed by Björk and Black Dog, whose lyrics will be the base of the composing for another song written by Björk for Madonna: "Bedtime Story". The second CD contained, among other remixes, a version of "Army of Me" which features Skunk Anansie. The track was recorded and mixed in less than 7 hours, as recalled by the band, and features Björk making heavy use of screaming vocals.
The lyrics of the song are about Björk's brother, as revealed by the singer, and show Björk daring him to move up and find a job to keep his life on, and also for him to not fall into bad things and learn to defend himself: "It's actually written to a relative of mine who had been a bit out of order for a while. I'm not sure why I wrote it. Maybe I felt that Debut had been such a polite, shy album – there was a side of me that was so shy and such a beginner, I was very flattered when everyone loved Debut but also a bit confused because it wasn't really me. Maybe 'Army Of Me' was an attempt to balance it out."
The song samples the drum line of "When the Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin. The song is dominated by a heavy bass line and features synthesizer. Mim Udovitch has described the song as "grinding techno fusion". The verses' melody and bass line are in Locrian mode, which is unusual for a pop song; the chorus features a Dø-Db-Cm chord progression.
Critical receptionEric Handerson of Slant Magazine found that the song "provocatively merges a Weather Report-esque jazz-fusion bass riff with a heavy-timbered rock drumbeat to match her contemptuous vocal delivery ('Self-sufficience, please!')" Natalie Curtis described the song as "inelegant", on a similar note, Mim Udovitch of Rolling Stone dubbed it as "ominous, anthemic", with Lou Stathis of MTV stating that "Army Of Me" is "booming, martial-march techno". According to Brantley Bardin of Details, "Army of Me" is "the album’s straightest song, a manifesto about self-sufficiency", while for Liz Hoggard of The Observer, the track is "brutal yet tender". Stuart Maconie of Q magazine praised the song by stating that its lyrics carries "bold and refreshing sentiments for a rock song. Refreshingly Icelandic sentiments", and further stating that "'Army Of Me' not only sounds fabulous—Led Zeppelin and techno welded together into a surging, operatic whole—but possesses a briskly pull-yourself-together tone. 'Stand up, you’ve got to manage ... /You're all right, there's nothing wrong / ... get to work / and if you complain once more, you'll meet an army of me".
In a very positive review, Heather Phares of AllMusic stated that "Atypical in its relative starkness and darkness, 'Army of Me' casts Björk against type as a warrior goddess fed up with whining, instead of her usual cyber-pixie persona. The first single from 1995's otherwise buoyant Post and a featured track on the Tank Girl soundtrack, as well as in the film. The song's pounding industrial beat, menacing synth bass, and unusually aggressive lyrics ('And if you complain once more / You'll meet an army of me') stand in sharp contrast to the rest of the album and to most of her previous work. However, 'Army of Me' seems like a precursor of the dark, introspective tone and sparse electronica arrangements of Björk's next album, 1997's Homogenic. The song was also turned into another video collaboration between Björk and her longtime director, Michael Gondry. The clip depicts Björk as a tank girl of sorts who goes to the dentist (which happens to be a gorilla) to have a sore tooth pulled—only to have it turn into a giant diamond, which she uses to fuel her tank. Like the song, it all makes sense in Björk's surreal, intellectually playful way". According to The New York Times writer Joy Press, Army of Me' is so menacing and inorganic-sounding it verges on industrial rock", and in a review, Pulse! defined the song "a staggering juggernaut of a track". While reviewing Post, Andy Smith of The Providence Journal stated that "Post is an eclectic affair, opening with the assertive industrial clang of Army of Me.
In 1995, "Army of Me" won an Icelandic Music Award for Song of the Year. The song was also ranked number 316 in Blender magazine's "The 500 Greatest Songs Since You Were Born". In 2012, the song was ranked number 71 in Consequence of Sound's "Top 100 Songs Ever".
BackgroundFor the music video of the song, Björk collaborated again with French film director Michel Gondry, who'd directed her video for "Human Behaviour" in 1993. (Gondry and Björk would continue their collaboration until 2011 when the video for "Crystalline" was released.) In the odd and surreal music video, Björk is the driver of a tanker truck. The singer "said that she wanted to capture that 'tanker-truck' feeling, the sense of a big machine grinding unstoppably through town" and further stated: "I thought I should be driving a very, very big truck to try to wake this person who's asleep, so I get the biggest truck in the world, and I'm so mad I've got metallic teeth, because when you're really angry, you grind your teeth. So I have to go to the dentist, who tries to steal away from me a diamond I don't know I have."
The dentist is actually a gorilla, and Björk explained:Björk and her label declined to use footage from the film Tank Girl (which features the track on its soundtrack) in the music video for "Army of Me".
The first seconds of the music video show a young man in cryonic slumber. It then cuts to Björk, wearing a black karate gi, driving a large vehicle through a city. The passers-by seem to ignore the mass of the vehicle. The vehicle begins to sputter and slow, prompting Björk to check the motor. Before floating off the vehicle, she turns to the camera and shows metallic teeth. The vehicle's engine assembly consists of a mouth in which all of the teeth appear rotten, comically exaggerated by a shaggy-looking man engulfed in a stench-cloud crawling out of the mouth and offending passers-by.
Björk touches her cheek, appearing to have a toothache, and proceeds to a nearby dentist's office. While she is going to the room of the dentist, her image appears reflected in a series of mirrors that make it impossible to distinguish her real self. She is examined by the dentist, an anthropomorphic gorilla, who discovers a diamond in her mouth. The dentist attempts to steal the diamond for himself, but Björk leaps onto his back and pummels him, and, retrieving the diamond, escapes the office. She takes the diamond back to her vehicle, all the while it multiplies in size until she is barely able to carry it. Björk tosses the diamond into the vehicle's mouth, apparently correcting its earlier affliction.
She then drives to a museum and proceeds inside, carrying a satchel containing a bomb. Sneaking past the museum's guards, she places the bomb on one of the exhibits - the young man seen in the beginning of the video lying on an altar in a deep sleep. She then bolts toward the museum's exit, concerning the guards and other patrons. She makes it out of the building just moments before the bomb explodes. After the explosion, she re-enters the building to find the man from the altar, who appears to have been just wakened by the blast. Björk hugs him, crying teardrops of jewels.
ReceptionThe video was well received by critics. Tim Walker of The Independent thought that "catchy, commercial song that was utterly original, and she's easily beautiful enough to have taken advantage of her sexuality in the video, but instead she got Michel Gondry to make a brilliant promo about her going to a gorilla dentist to get a huge diamond pulled out of her mouth". Gondry's visual imagery was heavily praised: "Gondry is a treat with visual details in defining his realities, and he provides in 'Army of Me'. The museum sequence furnishes an example: Before Björk bombs it, there are many artworks on the walls, each piece reflecting the apparent banality of the museum. One area shows a person observing a work which is a painting of a person in an art museum observing a work. After the explosion, everything is torn apart, bathed in smoke. Björk comes and retrieves her loved one, crying small diamonds onto his shoulder."
The ending of "Army of Me" music video depicted Björk bombing an art museum, and due to a recent terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City, MTV removed it from its playlist before it even aired. However, within weeks it was broadcast, but cut off before the bomb goes off. There exists some version of the music video which censored the explosion of the bomb, and some showing "To Be Continued" at the end.
In 1995, The video was nominated for two MTV Video Music Awards, one for Best Special Effects in a Video and one for International Viewer's Choice Awards – MTV Europe, losing the former to "Love Is Strong" by The Rolling Stones and the latter to "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" by U2.
Live performancesThe song was performed in a few live shows. Björk premiered the song a day before the release of the single, on April 20, 1995, on Top of the Pops, with the Skunk Anansie. This particular performance featured additional vocals by Skin. Björk performed the song live on Italian musical show Festivalbar and on The White Room, along with "I Miss You".
The song was performed on the Debut Tour before the official release. The performance on the Post Tour was called "explosive" by Adrien Begrand of PopMatters and was released on Live Box, in the Post Live CD, with the same performance being released on Björk's video Live at Shepherds Bush Empire. The song was performed on the Vespertine World Tour, where it was accompanied by Zeena Parkins. The performance was called "extra-gritty" and the accompaniment of Parkins was described as giving the song "fresh urgency".
The song was performed on the Greatest Hits Tour and on the Volta Tour, with the latter performance being included on Voltaïc, both in the live version recorded at the Olympic Studios in London, and in the DVD Live in Paris.
The song was performed again in summer 2012 in Lollapalooza Chile as part of the Biophilia Tour replacing most of the instrumental part with a Tesla coil.
CoversThe song received a wide coverage from other artists. German metalcore band Caliban covered this song on their 2006 album The Undying Darkness. The female vocals on the chorus were recorded by Tanja Keilen. Belgian metal band Silent covered this song on their 2005 self-titled demo. The alternative metal/post-hardcore band Helmet recorded a cover of "Army of Me" which was released on a Music for Our Mother Ocean benefit compilation. The Australian metal band Many Machines on Nine covered "Army of Me" on their self-titled 2000 EP. A jazz cover was released by the Yaron Herman Trio on their album A Time for Everything in 2007. Abandoned Pools, an alternative rock band have also covered the song, which is available on The Reverb EP. Powerman 5000 released a cover of this song on their The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Vol. 1 compilation. Sin, a French industrial band, covered the song, available on Errare Digital Est, Recall 2003. Oliver Weers, a Danish rock vocalist made semi-famous by his participation in the Danish X Factor in 2008, released a heavy metal-style cover version of "Army of Me" in 2008 on an album entitled Get Ready. Australian alternative metal band Beanbag covered the song on their 2001 second album Welladjusted. English rock band Drama recorded a cover of the song to perform at the 2010 UK Live & Unsigned regional final in Manchester, March 7. Polish progressive metal/post-metal band Proghma-C recorded a cover version on their debut album Bar-do Travel, 2009. French progressive metal band Klone also recorded a cover of the song as a bonus track on their 2010 album Black Days. Italian nu metal band Exilia recorded a cover of this song on their album Can't Break Me Down in 2005.
In 2005, Björk opened a contest to choose from various remixes for the song, to release a compilation to help raise funds for charity. Over 600 remixes were submitted and Björk was helped in the choosing of the tracks by fellow writer and composer Graham Massey. The compilation, called Army of Me: Remixes and Covers was released in May 2005 and as of January 2006, the album had raised around £250,000 to help UNICEF's work in the south east Asian region.
Usage in mediaIn addition to appearing in Tank Girl in 1995, the song was included in the soundtrack of Sucker Punch with further instrumentation by Skunk Anansie and remixing by Marius de Vries. The song has also been used in an episode of The Handmaid's Tale, and more recently in the second episode of the first season of A Discovery Of Witches.
Formats and track listingsThese are the formats and track listings of major single releases of "Army of Me".
Credits and personnel
Credits adapted from Post album liner notes.