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Robyn

Body Talk

(Interscope; US: 22 Nov 2010; UK: 29 Nov 2010)

We all know how this review should go.


By effectively combining all of the best moments of Robyn’s Body Talk trilogy, this massive full-length album should be rightly hailed for containing the most dramatic, forward-thinking pop music to come around all year, cementing the Swedish dance queen’s reputation as one of the smartest, wittiest, and exciting artists currently out there. Really, the whole thing doubles over as celebration for her extraordinary 2010, wherein after a bit of an absence from the music scene (let’s not forget her last disc—the insta-classic Robyn—initially came out in 2005) she gave us not just one but three albums of new music, scored a UK Top 10 hit with “Dancing on My Own”, and will soon be topping tons upon tons of year-end best-of lists for continuing to explore the many facets of her cathartic pop leanings.


Unfortunately, the true reality is this: the three Body Talk mini-albums—as fantastic as they are—are by no means perfect, and by slinging all the best moments together on a “greatest hits” reel, something gets lost in translation. Although both Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 were weighed down by only a few less-than-stellar moments, their skimmed-down track listings (only eight tracks a piece!) made Robyn’s eccentricities very digestible, and therefore, quite endearing. When spread out over 15 tracks, however, said eccentricities begin to thematically repeat themselves, and suddenly we find that we’re losing a bit of the uniqueness that drew us into Robyn’s world in the first place.


Some of the problem rests with things as simple as track placement: Body Talk, Pt. 1 opener “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do” worked because its teasing acapella line “My drinkin’ is killing me” served as fantastic way to jump right into Robyn’s abrasive, pop-on-her-own-terms world, putting forth a persona that’s rough around the edges yet hopelessly romantic at the core. Yet when said track is third in line on the Body Talk full-length, its in-your-face impact is considerably weakened, especially when following the trashy fun of a song like “Fembot”. Suddenly, songs that we once considered out-and-out highlights lose a bit of their sheen when placed in a new, thematic context.


So while Body Talk serves as a general overview of all three parts of the series (the five Pt. 3 tracks make their debut here, but are also available separately), not only does it fail to cohere as a solid full-length, but there are a few glaring omissions. While Pt. 1 contained such smart, sky-scraping hits like “Dancing on My Own”, “Fembot”, and the dark, sexy club-throb of “None of Dem”  (aided by Röyksopp) and Pt. 2 featured slightly more off-kilter selections like the downright experimental “We Dance to the Beat” and the thundering Snoop Dogg-assist of “U Should Know Better”, extraordinary tracks like “Include Me Out” (from Pt. 2) and the powerful anthem “Cry When You Get Older” (from Pt. 1) fall to the wayside to make room for respectable-but-not-incredible efforts like “Dancehall Queen” and “In My Eyes”. Suddenly, Body Talk is racking up B+ efforts and trying to pass them off as top-of-the-class winners, leaving the end result to be more deflating than thrilling.


Although Body Talk tries to save face by giving us two new versions of tracks we’ve heard before, both efforts—though decent—still pale in comparison to their earlier incarnations. The acoustic “Indestructible” we heard on the conclusion of Pt. 2 recalled earlier wonders like “Be Mine!” wherein Robyn’s simple plea of wanting to “love you like I’ve never been hurt before” is given additional gravitas by being placed over a dramatic string section with absolutely no other instruments coming into play. It was a bold move, but it served that song’s sense of drama extremely well. The new version (and lead single), with its ascending keyboard bubbles and strobe-like chorus, sounds great on the dance floor, but by swapping out strings for synths, Robyn’s voice gets lost amidst the laser lights, and its impact just isn’t as strong. “Dancing on My Own”, however, is a different story. In the original Pt. 1 incarnation, the dry, mechanical throb that opens up the song served as a stark backdrop for Robyn’s passionate, deeply moving tale of watching her man be happy with someone else. On the “Radio Remix”, though, this dramatic frame is watered down by tossing in a bubbly new keyboard melody that robs the track of a lot of its drama. Yes, the chorus is still as cathartic and extraordinary as it was before, but this is assuredly not the definitive version of the track.


Fortunately, the new Pt. 3 tracks are about on par with the five best tracks of any of the other Body Talk entries. “Time Machine” is a nice, rave-ready story about wishing you could fix mistakes from the past, while the quietly unassuming closer “Stars 4-Ever” is a sweet mid-tempo track about not ever being too far from the one you love—both are solid, respectable entries into the trilogy. Yet leave it Robyn to save two of her best tracks for last: “Get Myself Together” and the remarkable “Call Your Girlfriend”. The former is designed to be a full-on anthem, its pulsating beat simply increases in intensity with each iteration until it explodes into a remarkably self-deprecating chorus, wherein following the aftermath of a bad break, Robyn notes that “I can’t tell what’s right or wrong / I wish that something could be done / I’m not that clever / When this hurt is gone / I got to get myself together”, picking herself up but not before giving herself some moments to let the reality of the situation sink in. 


“Call Your Girlfriend”, though, stands alongside “Dancing on My Own”, “Handle Me”, and “With Every Heartbeat” as one of those rare Robyn tracks that finds a way to use its overtly commercial pop framework to tell a rather emotional, pointed relationship tale that is heads-and-shoulders above most of what’s on mainstream radio today. Here, over a short-circuiting tap-beat and ‘80s synth washes, Robyn finds true love with a guy who just so happens to have a girlfriend. In this gorgeous ultimatum of a song, she tells her new man exactly what he needs to do to break it off with his girlfriend, in a manner that’s as emotional as it is respectable:


“Call your girlfriend
It’s time you had the talk
Give your reasons
Say it’s not her fault
But you just met somebody new
And now it’s gonna be me and you”


Robyn cuts right to the core of things, and some of her lines could serve as the basis for whole other sings in and of themselves. Although we didn’t necessarily need any more proof that Robyn is the master at articulating those small, painful moments people go through in just about any relationship, a track like “Call Your Girlfriend” only adds to her reputation as one of the smartest pop divas working out there today, and reason enough to get Body Talk for yourself.


It’s just a shame that while Body Talk contains some of the most extraordinary pop music to be released all year, its impact is weakened by a few poor song inclusions and a difficult track listing that inadvertently highlights how some of the same motifs reoccur throughout the Body Talk project, making the full-length Body Talk sound more repetitious than it actually is. When all three parts are taken together, though, it’s obvious that somewhere in that mishmash of tracks, Robyn has truly crafted the Album of the Year. Body Talk, however, is not it.

Rating:

Evan Sawdey started contributing to PopMatters in late 2005, and has also had his work featured in publications such as SLUG Magazine, The Metro (U.K.), Soundvenue Magazine (Denmark), the Daily Dot, and many more. Evan has been a guest on HuffPost Live, RevotTV's "Revolt Live!", and WNYC's Soundcheck (an NPR affiliate), was the Executive Producer for the Good With Words: A Tribute to Benjamin Durdle album, and wrote the liner notes for the 2011 re-release of Andre Cymone's hit 1985 album A.C. (Big Break Records), the 2012 re-release of 'Til Tuesday's 1985 debut Voices Carry (Hot Shot Records), and many others. He currently resides in Chicago, Illinois. You can follow him @SawdEye should you be so inclined.


Tagged as: robyn
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