Robyn Body Talk Pt. 2(Konichiwa Records) Buy it from Insound
Let me start off by saying that I fell head over heels for Robyn in March of this year, when I purchased 2005’s Robyn on a whim after hearing the that she was going to release three(!) full length albums in 2010. Anyone who knows Robyn’s work can understand the sentiment: She’s simply everything. Her 2005 album featured a mélange of musical styles, ranging from club-ready hip-hop, propulsive electro-pop, and even a bit of bubble gum (the latter most likely being related to her previous 90s incarnation as a R&B-inflected songstress). Other tracks such as Any Time You Like and Should Have Known featured a sexual weirdness (in both musical arrangements and vocal stylings) suggestive of a long standing obsession with Sign of the Times. Lyrically too, Robyn depicted a dual personality that embodied either an invincible hip-hop superhero, or a bitter, dejected lover. It’s this dual identity of both braggart and sad sack that made Robyn such an entertaining record: Though certainly not a flawless record, there were considerably more hits than misses and it featured lots of compelling music, clever wordplay, and several novelty tracks that actually achieved their intended comedic effect.
Now we’re at the second Body Talk installment, which on the whole, fares a little better than Pt. 1. This statement requires some elaboration in the sense that some of the substantial acclaim heaped upon Pt. 1 seemed both overstated and (slightly) undeserved. Comprised of a scant eight tracks, only four (the album’s first half) were what you could consider “actual” Robyn material, three of which were excellent. The album’s second half was marred by a pair of dancehall-wannabe duds, and a couple piano ballads, one of which was a Swedish folk song she sang in her native tongue (sorry Robyn, I’m all for valuing cultural heritage, but we’re listening because we’re interested in you, and your performing a song in a foreign language discourages large-scale identification with your work), and another that appears in its full form on Pt .2 (Hang With Me). To more succinctly sum up the album, given the especially high caliber of her previous work, Robyn got too much praise for doing too little of what makes her so special.
I’m sure some would counter that the Body Talk series shouldn’t be evaluated in terms of the quality of each volume as an album per se, but instead as a new-media P.R. campaign: Robyn’s an artist who’s been out of the game for half a decade, and putting out three (albeit abbreviated) albums in the course of a year also represents a way to make up for lost time, promote her image, and make a display of artistic pragmatism concerning the full length LP as a relevant format for music. I’m fine with all of these arguments; I’m just saying that if an artist is going for this approach of releasing more concise records over a shorter period of time, the music ought to be more uniformly consistent than Body Talk Pt. 1.
Thankfully, it’s a little harder to level this critique at Pt. 2, which features less filler, and more tracks that are straight-up Robyn. Album opener In My Eyes entails some respectable space-minded dance pop, with Robyn lyrically describing herself as a source of vague, cosmic redemption for world weary listeners. It’s a decent enough song, but it’s one of numerous tracks in her career where attempts at describing commonplace emotional calamity come off as either trite (Cry When You Get Older) or downright silly (Robotboy). Another prime example of this deficiency occurs on Pt. 2’s Love Kills, where blaster cannon arpeggiators and drum machines provide the backdrop for dreadful lines such as, “Protect yourself/Cuz you’ll wreck yourself/In this cold hard world/So check yourself”.
On the contrary, Robyn is more successful when she keeps the lyrical spotlight on herself. The dance version of Hang With Me is an endearing portrait of personal vulnerability, and the new arrangement, complete with Robyn’s trademark of layered vocal parts, commands much more respect than its previous iteration on Body Talk Pt. 1. Though there are elements of silliness to each, Criminal Intent and U Should Know Better (with the latter featuring vocal contributions from Snoop Dogg) mark a satisfying return to Robyn’s self-directed superlatives for her sexual appetite and general bad-assery. Alongside the verses of Include Me Out (which features a delightfully explosive kick drum sound), these tracks make Body Talk Pt. 2 a fairly urban-minded record.
We Dance to the Beat, which is one part techno, one part futurist sound collage, embodies the album’s most unexpected number. Now, tweaked beats and heavily processed vocals by no means represent a new musical development (Daft Punk, LCD Soundsystem, even Radiohead, blah blah blah), but the song is a refreshing change of pace for an artist like Robyn who’s usually so pop-minded.
In closing, the most important remaining question concerns Robyn’s stylistic direction following completion of the Body Talk project. The contents of Pts. 1 & 2 allow for some pretty safe estimations concerning what’s in store on Pt. 3: Misplaced album closer Indestructible will get a makeover comparable to Hang With Me, in addition to there being some songs about fictitious heroism, and some about vicious heartache, all of which will be mostly above average pop. It’s after that album that she has some strategizing to do. With regards to Robyn’s assumed artistic persona, the cultural aphorism “Familiarity breeds contempt” sums up her work rather well. As stated, at first listen, Robyn was everything I wanted. However, three albums whose songs that routinely alternate between a top-of-the-world mindset for a more melancholic perspective inevitably suggest some frustrating inconsistencies in Robyn’s character.
It’s great when artists learn to produce work that has more than one dimension to it. Robyn’s has two. I’d just like to see her develop one or two more.23 August, 2010 - 07:26 — Anthony Porreco