Review Summary: Pure pop goodness, one slice at a time.
Pop gets a bad rep. Often written off as shallow and/or mindless, it is perpetually stuck in the "dunce" corner of the indie world. Of course, there's no doubt that plenty of pop is
mindless - we have Britney Spears to help prove that - but dismissing an entire genre based on the talents (or, in this case, lack thereof) of a few manufactured products is dangerous. One risks missing the rare pop artist with a genuine personality and serious chops.
Robyn is one of those artists. 2005's Robyn
showed that the former Swedish teen-pop princess had moved past the gimmicky phase of her career and matured significantly as an artist. Electro-pop was infused with emotional depth on touching songs such as "With Every Heartbeat" and "Be Mine!", but Robyn proved with "Konichiwa Bitches" that she could just as quickly poke fun at herself and the pop culture she grew up loving. Her voice, while thin, had remarkable range. The album solidified the two main facets of Robyn's musical persona: "love me" and "f*ck you".
Body Talk Pt. 1
, the first installment in a proposed trilogy to be finished later this year, starts off in the latter mode, with "Don't F*cking Tell Me What To Do". Robyn lists a bunch of things that are pissing her off while electric circuitry ominously crackles underneath her kinda-rap. As always, though, Robyn is self-effacing - her mother, landlord, manager, phone, and e-mail are all, as she says, "killing me". She follows this up with the infectious silliness of "Fembot", where she plays the role of a cyborg. Robyn takes this idea far more literally then Janelle Monae did in The ArchAndroid
- where Monae adopted the persona of a droid eager to take up humanity, Robyn is more than happy to remain an automaton. "I've got some news for you/Fembots have feelings too", Robyn spits out, before going through a laundry list of statistics that qualify her as a "scientifically advanced hot mama". The contrast between heartbreak and boasting prevents either sentiment from feeling trite.
In "Dancing With My Own," though, heartbreak is at the forefront. A sort of prequel to "With Every Heartbeat," Robyn finds herself confronting not another person, but her own broken heart. "I'm giving it my all/but I'm not the girl you're taking home/I keep dancing on my own", Robyn belts. A sense of lonely disillusionment pervades throughout the song, which is made all the more effective by being juxtaposed against the communal, optimistic energy of a dance floor. The machine-gun climax (arguably the best pop moment of the year) suggests triumph, but Robyn sounds anything but victorious in her quest for love.
As if to communicate this newfound disappointment out to the world, Robyn follows up with "Cry When You Get Older", which finishes off the first half of the album. "Love hurts when you do it right/you can cry when you get older," Robyn says, hardened by her emotional wounds. Once again, Robyn's natural warmth is the key ingredient to the song's success; what could have been a typical "why doesn't he love me?" pop song is elevated to an anthem (or cure?) for post-breakup pain. The song can be lyrically questionable ("She said, 'boy there must be more to life than this'/he said, 'careful 'cause you might just get your wish'") but the solid production and Robyn's voice make up for any shortcomings the song may have.
That applies to most of the second half of Body Talk Pt. 1
. "Dancehall Queen" is all over the place, and on paper it shouldn't work at all - dubstep bass, dancehall synths, and a sing-songy vocal line, what were they thinking?! - and yet somehow it does. The combined talents of Diplo and Robyn pull through and deliver a solid song that doesn't seem to care what people think it is
, exactly. "I came to dance, not to socialize," Robyn says nonchalantly. Even more successful is the Royksopp collaboration "None of Dem", where Robyn expresses frustration about people not meeting her lofty standards. "None of them get my sex/none of them move my intellect," she nearly snarls. Humor is traded for irresistible swagger, and "None of Dem" is probably the biggest step forward from the sound of Robyn's previous albums.
Body Talk Pt. 1
feels abbreviated in its short length (reportedly, parts 2 and 3 are still being recorded), but Robyn leaves us with a haunting final couplet of two acoustic tracks. "Hang With Me" is one of the most affecting songs Robyn has ever recorded, somber in tone yet desperately optimistic. "If you're for real and not pretend/then I guess you can hang with me," she sings, alone, accompanied only by a sparse piano-and-strings arrangement. And the closer, "Jag Vet En Dejlig Rosa", shows just how lovely Robyn's voice can be. I may not know what she's singing about, but that doesn't stop the lump from growing in my throat. Mindless? Psh. Few singer-songwriters can mix delirious fun with genuine feeling as well as Robyn has done here. If Pt. 1
is any indication of what's to come, Robyn is set to have an excellent year.