[11 June 2014]
“The anticipation, you know it’s like mmm mmm mmm.”
—“Do It Again”
Well, that was anticlimactic. There was so much to anticipate here and so little that lingered on in the mind long after the final track had come to an unremarkable close. In the past, the inventive collaborations between Robyn and Röyksopp were so effortlessly impressive, that they easily surpassed the creative output of many of their Nordic, electro-pop peers. While Röyksopp’s Svein Berge and Torbjørn Brundtland have consistently enlisted an impressive arsenal of talented vocalists to flesh out their synth-laden compositions, their alliance with Robyn always seemed to be a meeting of great minds. From the striking, dance pop melancholia of “The Girl and the Robot” on 2009’s Junior, to the late night, seductively menacing vibe of Body Talk’s “None of Dem”, a full-length effort seemed like a logical progression of their synergistic relationship. The idea and the execution somehow didn’t quite find common ground here. There’s a lot to admire, and Do It Again never borders on the embarrassing, but rarely could it be deemed an unmitigated success.
When news of a joint summer tour was announced, it wasn’t particularly shocking that they had recorded new songs in anticipation of performing live together. The brief promo clip for opener “Monument” shrouded the experimental aspects of the song, highlighting its inherent strengths, yet failing to include the somewhat perplexing, free form saxophone passages from musician Kjetil Møster, that dominated the final half of the track. Admittedly, the tribal-esque drum work that’s woven into the rhythmic backbone of the piece is really pleasant, but the inclusion of a sax proves to be both jarring and unnecessary. There was a time when saxophones were liberally thrown into pop songs regardless of whether or not they fit within the texture of the production. As of the late, that annoying trend seems to have returned. Its insertion within the tail end of the song only detracts from the multihued mood throughout and the reflective lyrics within.
Robyn sings, “This will be my monument / This will be a beacon when I’m gone”, as if to address the finality of death, the beauty of living in the now, and her artistic legacy. Her understated delivery is unexpectedly reserved when compared to past recordings, especially for it being the opening track of the album. The same could be said of the icy, sputtering fourth offering “Every Little Thing”, which echoes the spirit of a spunky Robyn of yore, while seemingly going nowhere. In both instances, the tempo consistently gives off an impression that it will eventually accelerate or the time signature will suddenly change, transforming the song from something rather ordinary into an epic musical entity. Unfortunately that never comes to fruition. There’s plenty of tension, but there’s no release. “Monument” seems to be lost in abstract contemplation, and the latter ballad appears as if its wings and feet are tied to the ground and mired in the muck of the mundane, even with the presence of a delicate string section in tow.
When it comes to the club-banging title tune, let’s be honest, the deliciously addictive single “Do It Again” was but a mere tease. Anyone expecting more of the same to dominate the album might find themselves a bit disappointed. That’s not to say there’s nothing here worthy of anyone’s investigation. The hypnotic, robotic, S&M dungeon wonderland of “Sayit”, contains some naughty lyrical phrases like, “Pleasure machine. Fuck mechanic”, proving to be Do It Again’s dirty, little saving grace. Both tracks revel in double entendre and the hypersexual, while the former sees our Swedish pop heroine torn between a tumultuous friendship she knows is bad for her, and the mind-blowing sex she would have to part with.
The only thing preventing this collection of songs from simply being categorized as an EP would be the length of the effort. With two tracks teetering perilously close to the ten-minute mark, one has to wonder whether Robyn and Röyksopp ran out of ideas midstream and decided they would just float along for the remainder of the scheduled studio time they had booked together. That’s no more apparent than on the concluding track “Inside the Idle Hour Club”, where Robyn is curiously absent from the foreground. Her vocals have been sampled and distorted to the point of nonexistence, where they linger as an almost undetectable scent in the air. Aimless and frankly unworthy of even B-side status, the track seems to come off like a discarded, lengthy cue to the soundtrack of a film where nothing much happens. I detect a theme here. On their last studio album, 2010s instrumental effort Senior, they were at least able to concoct something more engaging. If the duo were hoping to achieve some sort of sonic transcendence on the track, they missed the mark entirely.
There’s nothing wrong with a little experimentation. It keeps things interesting for both the musician and the listener. Artists of this trio’s caliber often become restless when they feel that their creative inspiration is appearing to run dry. That’s not to say either party is encroaching on that territory in the slightest bit here; it’s understandable that they’d want to push beyond the creative confines of their past work. Unfortunately, the shimmering brilliance of Röyksopp’s previous singles “Running To The Sea” with Susanne Sundfør and the Jamie Irrespressible-featured “Something In My Heart”, never really resurfaces throughout the duration of Do It Again. For every moment of eye-rolling overindulgence, there is an equally stunning instance of ingenuity, but the album is so stylistically all over the place, it rarely solidifies as a cohesive statement. If Robyn and Röyksopp are interested in doing it once again, let’s hope they’ll be able to tap into something a bit more inspired than what has been presented here.