Dropping a “Konichiwa, bitches!” here and there may not be as immediately gratifying as it was back when Chappelle’s Show ruled the world and the Genius (GZA) himself uttered those words, but fame is a bitch and time capsules are infinitely cool. However, to look at the finally State-side released pop masterpiece Robyn as a simple, specific snapshot of pop culture is both incorrect and inherently dismissive to a fault. Sure, the Swedish anti-diva quotes the aforementioned sketch comedy juggernaut on one of the album’s key singles (it’s the name of her own record label); maybe she even intentionally incorporates some of the brash, decidedly “blue” humor that helped make said show popular. Three years later, though, Chappelle’s Show is dead and buried, while Robyn is consistently and defiantly sounding as fresh as anything circulating the dreaded “Top 40.”
Robyn has had something of an interesting ride in the industry since it was 1997 and it was some how acceptable to make an appearance on All That. But she’s always had the potential for an audience in the U.S., as proven through her brushes with top ten fame in the mid- and late ‘90s. As far as the aughts are concerned, however, it has been mostly just baby girl and the Swedes. She seems fine with this, as it has clearly worked out well for her. One could probably make the argument that her popularity and fame in her homeland can be directly linked to the abundance of creativity and confidence present throughout all of her subsequent works and vice-versa.
Robyn’s fourth album, simply entitled Robyn, is her most honest and infectious outing to date—or was in 2005, in any case. Walking a dangerous line between relevance and exclusivity, she whisks away any and all pretensions and presumptions associated with her persona, replacing them with instances of child-like playfulness, suggestive sexuality, “off-colour” humor, and a genuine wisdom gained through persevering as a strong woman in a very male industry. What works so well on Robyn is how perfectly wrapped up all of these ideas are in a pop album so riotous, so unrelenting, and so bold that you almost don’t truly get what you’ve just experienced until you start it all over again.
Robyn primarily and expertly uses a somewhat traditional hip-hop soundscape to comprise most of its “meat”. It melds this with a sharper, more synth-driven electro-pop production style—not unlike most ‘80s pop throwbacks and Timbaland ventures. Setting her record apart, however, Robyn and her collection of skilled maestros behind the boards (including but not limited to the likes of The Knife) don’t commit to a specific method—insomuch that the album easily remains as busy and manic as it can without appearing stagnant or directionless. Robyn carries with it a forward momentum and delightfully muddied-up identity, making it a testament of both determination and control in the face of potential entropy. Slightly reworked and peppered with a couple of choice bonus tracks, this U.S. version not only helps the already lauded LP establish itself as giant leap forward for Robyn’s international career, it also successfully presents the album as both revamped and reinvigorated.
Granted, all of the favorites still provide the same kick they did when they were first rolled out, but there is a freshness apparent that is exciting and, well, equally satisfying. “Who’s That Girl”, though rearranged in the track order, still stands as an impressive meeting of bold identity and vulnerability. “Be Mine!” is a would-be club-stomper whose chaotic pace is beautifully offset by Robyn’s inspired delivery. “Robot Boy” is a silly little romp that proves far more effective than one would initially expect. And, lest I forget, we also have “Cobra Style”, a damn near perfect Teddy Bears cover (easily surpassing the original), which has been added from Robyn’s Rakamonie EP released earlier this year.
Then there’s a track such as “Bum Like You”, which is undeniably one of the album’s most memorable cuts. At first, the song’s broken ballad delivery and romantic confusion seems to stand in direct conflict with the rest of the album. However, as the simple story of the song unfolds it actually helps to unveil Robyn‘s central theme if you will. There is a sort of exposed, naked quality presented without abandoning the confidence portrayed elsewhere on the LP. This perfectly displays the balance of strength and sensitivity that Robyn was going for without ever slipping into sappiness or overt melodrama. It is for reasons like this that I can call Robyn one of the most well-rounded—dare I say, responsible—and relevant pop albums of the last several years, and not risk the danger of being hyperbolic.
Really, the most impressive thing about Robyn is just how timeless it is proving to be. True, we’re not talking about a 20-year-old album here, but in the world of pop, your shelf life is all too often linked with your ability to move American units. Robyn has defied this logic and has been kind enough to give us all a second chance. You’ll find, in a grander scope, Robyn will not only provide that snapshot of popular culture, both biting and apt, but also put forth a perennial collection of sonic splendors and surprisingly visceral conceits that just might (and rightly should) catapult Robyn into the canon of pop geniuses.
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// Notes from the Road
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