There's really no telling why Bjork chose her 1995 hit "Army of Me" as the object of a UNICEF benefit album of covers, remixes and mashups. Recorded early in her solo career, it's a dark, ambient/industrial ode to self-reliance ("You're all right / There's nothing wrong / Self-sufficience please / And get to work"). As charity anthems go, in other words, it's not exactly "We Are the World."
But unfortunate lyrical symbolism aside, there's something impressively fluid about "Army of Me," as reinterpreted here by 20 mostly unknown artists (culled from more than 600 open-call submissions). Though it lacks the greatness of such classics as "Human Behavior" or "It's Oh So Quiet" (now there's a candidate for a covers album), it has the same spacious feel. It's democratic enough, elastic enough, to accommodate everything from metal to techno to kind-of polka without sounding unnatural. (Bad, yes. But not unnatural).
"Army of Me: Remixes and Covers" may have been done by an army of novices, but any concerns about an air of "hey, kids, let's put on a show" earnestness are dispelled somewhere around track 1, a speed-metal ditty by Canadian group Interzone that addresses the question of what Bjork would sound like if she listened to a lot of GWAR.
The rest of the versions here range from the mostly faithful to the unrecognizable. (A good rule of thumb: The less an artists tries to sound like Bjork, the better off he or she usually is. For better or worse, Bjork is quite capable of caricaturing herself.)
There are several flat-out terrific tracks (such as the Messengers of God's loping country version, the least twee of all the offerings) and several remixes that offer little more than a series of enervated, intergalactic-sounding loops and whorls.
The contributions mostly fall into three categories: Bjork Lite (cover versions featuring lots of airy female vocals, as demonstrated by the French group Grisbi and the Denmark outfit Atoi); Conventional Remixes (by the Swedish artist Tor Bruce and someone named Dr. Gunni, among others); and the Just Weird (an operatic electronica version by Patrick Wolf and a mashup by Alfredo Lietor that features vocals by a talking computer, making "Army of Me" sound as if it were being recited by the talking car in "Knight Rider." Unnatural, yes. But not bad).
Somewhere around track 14 the listener starts to realize that 20 versions of the same song is an awful lot. Sixteen would have been perfect, or how about 12? Those who make it to the end will find that "Remixes and Covers" offers something for everyone: Fans and completists will be happy to have finally located a version of "Army of Me" with accordions. Bjork haters will appreciate the sheer deconstructed glory of a great song without being subjected to the singer's tyrannical impishness. Everyone else will just be glad to have finally found a remix album that doesn't feature P. Diddy.