When Robyn appeared back in 1997 (crikey!), nobody was surprised when that heartless fiend we call “The Dumper” beckoned and consigned another soul to the ghostly netherworld of the bargain bin. Mixing Europop and R&B? This does not compute. A “lay-dee” telling record company bean counters how to sell records? Preposterous! This feisty Swede yelled “Non!” to flowing locks ‘n’ Cinderella frocks and “Oui!” to Mozzer-high quiffs ‘n’ Doc Martens. To the cells! Fast-forward a decade, and she emerged from the depths clutching a triumphant homemade marvel called Robyn. Payback time.
Empowered by her Lady Lazarus resurrection, Robyn has decided, Betty Big Boots-style, to unleash not one but three albums this year. That’ll show them! Muuhahaha! (Rolls fingers maniacally). I think it’s called “a stealth attack”. Alas tragically it’s also called “a birrova mess”. Part Deux slightly disappoints after the solid Part Un. But hey, birthing 24 pups in one year was always gonna get messy.
Bad News Bears first. “Include Me Out” is an underwhelming stop / start roll call for Robyn’s army of outsiders, loners, cleaners, etc. “If your world should fall apart / There’s plenty room inside my heart,” she coos. Aaah. If only she’d included “Tunes” on the list and scratched off “Dodgy Rapping”. I’m sure I heard “This one’s for the Granny, take a bow” too, a tad cruel considering the commonality of octogenarians with bad backs.
“Criminal Intent” meanwhile finds a randy Robyn hauled before the judge amid a hail of sirens, “Somebody alert the authorities / I’ve got criminal intent”. On paper it sounds daring, edgy but in reality it’s basically Black Eyed Peas. Robyn plays the scrappy tramp rapping about “Ripped up Pantyhose” and threatening to “Wind it / Grind it” sending the comically unhip ‘Daddio’ Judge all a flutter. She pleads with the jury (comprising no doubt of curmudgeonly, player hatin’ old folk) not to send her down for being a saucestress and…it’s all massively embarrassing. This whole scene is wrong your honour! Seriously, I pray this is some post-ironic pastiche that’s gone over my head. But I doubt it.
The main offender is “We Dance to the Beat”. Imagine an idea so fearsome it would’ve been rejected from Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 as “too pretentious”. After some cyborg mutterings, we’re treated to a list of things “we” (ie. Ver Kidz) dance to. “The beat…of silent mutation / Of raw talent wasted / Of bad kissers clicking teeth / Of an eviction next door”. It sounds like an escaped mental patient, high on morphine, dribbling the first ideas that enter their head whilst a rabid chimp bashes a Bontempi. It had to be the longest track too. It’s HORRIBLE and sent me into a spasm which climaxed with me accidentally on purpose shaving my ears off.
But!...should you survive those sledgehammer blows to the knackers there are redemptive signs this is the genius Robyn behind the heavenly “Who’s That Girl?” and “Be Mine”. Praise Above! “Hang with Me” is easily one of 2010’s highlights. I love it! I want it! I need it! A majestic elysian kiss of synth alchemy, a fairytale ending with a cheeky tip o’ the cap to career peak “With Every Heartbeat”. It’s Robyn the sweetheart, “When you see me drift astray / Will you tell me to my face?”. In other words, kid if you want rainbows you gotta handle some rain. Tag n’ bag as evidence for the Holy Grail of pop. When she cries “Just don’t fall / Recklessly / Headlessly / In love with me” you’ll feel immortal. This is why you can get addicted to pop music.
The lush, string soaked “Indestructible” sits beside “Hang with Me” at the top of the mountain. Classy, romantic, passionate, the stuff dreams are made of. It’s narrator once again holding out on hope against the odds, “I let the bad ones in and the good ones go” she mourns. It echoes the haunting melody of Robert Palmer’s “Johnny and Mary” and will likely get the full Queen of the dancefloor makeover on Body Talk Pt. 3. Can’t wait. It also packs the switchblade to the heart pay-off “I’m gonna love you like I’ve never been hurt before.” I’d claw my way through a thousand “Wind it / Grind It”‘s to hold a diamond like that.
Amidst the pearls n’ swine there are other modest charms. “In My Eyes” tempers rib-shaking drums with snuggably warm analogue synths. It’s a veritable disco duvet with Robyn in full huggy bear mode, “Hey little star, come take my hand / I’ve got ya, you’ll be OK”. Whilst if “Hang With Me” was the drive into the sunset, “Love Kills” is the getting pulled over for speeding. A square jawed Robyn warns “There’s a penalty for love crimes” over moody Moroder pulses and acid 808’s. “Don’t go messing with love it’ll hurt you for real” she threatens from behind mirrored shades whilst chewing on a matchstick.
“U Should Know Better” is more bad attitude amid bullet train beats. Robyn waves her fist and reminds various establishments—the Vatican, LAPD, the French (??)—“to know better than to fuck with me”. If the threat of Robyn’s steely stare wasn’t scary enough, she’s brought Snoop Doggy Dogg (obviously) to help hammer home the news. Unfortunately Mr.Dogg is about as threatening as a newborn kitten, “I got a table at the coffee shop / If you knew better you would do better”. Of course, it’s preposterously brilliant and once again I call Snoop for President!
Robyn is a sharp, sassy star capable of making heartbreaking, cutting edge, electro-pop seemingly with ease. Her determination to do things her own way and challenge the conceptions of how records are made and released in the 21st century should be applauded. Planet pop is a brighter place with renegades like Robyn. “Having said that” (thankyou Larry David) can I be a pain and just have all the imperial pop classics from the Body Talk trilogy on one ten track album? That’d be grand. Much love, thanks!
// Notes from the Road
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