[21 February 2008]
Show of hands—anyone remember Robyn? No? Well, let me refresh your memory. A decade or so ago, at the dawn of the late ‘90s teen-pop boom, this Swedish pop tart (with soul chops) jumped on the scene. Hit singles like “Do You Know (What It Takes)” and “Show Me Love” were bouncy and poppy (as just about any music that comes from Robyn’s home base of Sweden is), and the girl could sing. She counted new-jill swing singers like Faith Evans among her influences, and her pipes were strong enough to warrant comparisons. Her girlish coo made even R&B fans take notice. Her debut album went platinum, and then…
…Well, I’m not exactly sure what happened. Her team of songwriting Swedes found a more pliable (and more traditionally sexy) client in Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera stepped in as the resident blue-eyed soul siren role, and there was no need for Robyn in the U.S. anymore if we were growin’ ‘em at home. Although she’s been off the American scene for ten years, she hasn’t stopped making records and scoring hits in Europe, and she’s gained a little bit of buzz among the American music journalist/hipster contingent over the past couple of years, despite her work only being available as an import. Finally, as a teaser for a full album due later this year, several of the songs that have re-established Robyn’s buzz are available in America as The Rakamonie EP. The five songs collected here span the past two or three years, but still sound remarkably fresh and current in today’s stale American pop music scene.
If you dug Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” or Nelly Furtado‘s “Promiscuous”, you’ll definitely dig this album’s “Konichiwa Bitches” and “Cobrastyle”. Both songs remind me of Missy Elliott circa “Work It” (with a little dash of M.I.A. for flavoring), if she were outfitted with now-era Timbaland production. Robyn won’t win any rhyme battles (although in today’s decimated league of femcees, you never know), but her sexy boasts are effervescent in a tough-talking little sister kind of way. She talks wild shit over crazy electro beats (sample line: “Right now you’re probably thinking ‘how’d she get in them jeans?’ / Well I’m gifted, all natural and burstin’ the seams”). It was fun when I initially heard it two years ago, it would be the hottest thing on the radio right now if programmers pulled their heads out of their asses, and if anyone can make a record this great using a Dave Chappelle catchphrase long past it’s sell-by date, then I command them to do so immediately! (…and no, Kanye, you can’t use “it’s a celebration, bitches” again).
Lest you forget how talented a vocalist Robyn is, she follows her two dance tunes with two showstopping piano ballads, “Be Mine” and “With Every Heartbeat”. While singers like Beyonce may be more talented from a technical standpoint, vocalists like Mary J. Blige have long proven that technique is no match for soul, and Robyn proves that as well with these two songs. I’d be perfectly content to hear Robyn sit at a piano and belt out ballads like these for an entire album. But proving that she can do more with 88 keys than emote, she ends the EP with an even more hilarious revision of Prince’s already pretty funny 1981 song “Jack U Off”, the latest in a long line of interesting Prince covers. It’s irreverent, off-the-cuff, and the perfect way to end this album.
Hearing The Rackamonie EP makes me angry that Fergie can sell three million records while Robyn can’t even get arrested here in the States. Kudos to the folks at Interscope for giving the chick a chance (and also pairing her up with Snoop Dogg on the “Sensual Seduction” remix, which, alas, is not included here). This teaser for Robyn’s forthcoming album indicates that good things will be in store when she finally gets her second chance at American success. Definitely worth the price, and you won’t have to spend a “Rackamonie” to enjoy it! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)