RATE BODY TALK, PT. 1:
The opening lines of Robyn’s Body Talk Pt. 1 are submerged under a layer of dust, muffled under a few years of silence. Within thirty ticks of the second hand, though, Robyn shakes off that dust and emerges, fully present and in charge. She lists her demons – “my drinking is killing me, my smoking is killing me, my diet’s killing me, my heels are killing me, my shopping’s killing me, my ego’s killing me,” and on and on and on. In the end, the opposite is clear; Robyn isn’t being killed, she’s killing it.
Body Talk Pt. 1 is the first in what is reported to be a three-release series emerging over the course of 2010, an eight-track introduction to what may very well prove to be a trilogy of pop brilliance. It’s a beautifully produced, sassy record. It’s a statement that Robyn, who has been making music professionally since the age of twelve, is not finished with reinvention.
Normally I would have some major gripes with an eight track album. When an album clocks in at around thirty minutes, I normally think it’s a cop out, that I’m not getting bang for my buck. Normally, I would call this album light on content. Normally, normally, normally. In this case that would be disingenuous. In reality, I have trouble getting past even the first four tracks on the album; they’re such delicious pop that I find myself barely scraping the surface of Body Talk Pt. 1’s back half.
The aforementioned introduction to the album, “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do,” is a slowly growing bass-heavy track that adds layer upon layer until it is a full-on jam. In other hands it might seem like an overwrought complaint, this laundry-list of things that are killing Robyn. In her hands, it’s a mission statement, a bold bravado that asserts her ability to triumph over her vices without your damn help.
“Fembot,” the album’s second track, is Body Talk Pt. 1 in a nutshell – multi-voiced introduction, affected vocal overlays, and heavy beats, with a shimmering sheen covering the entire thing. The song has the luster of bubblegum pop, but it’s bubblegum that’s being chewed in the club. When Robyn blows a bubble, you can’t wait for it to pop. “Burn out baby,” she sings, “ready for demolition.”
Body Talk Pt. 1’s third track is the song that has emerged as a single, despite being at best the third catchiest song on the album. “Dancing On My Own” has more Madonna and Minogue - a lush, deep pop song that shows off Robyn’s youthful voice. Again, the production is spotless. These songs grind and soar simultaneously.
The first three tracks are an assembly line leading to the cleanup spot, “Cry When You Get Older.” The vocal style of “Fembot” is laid over the dirty beats of “Dancing On My Own,” which themselves are mixed with the stutter-step of “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do.” The woofer rumbles while Robyn’s crystal clear voice sings from the heart. It’s a personal track, a song that comes from first-hand experience – at the same time, it’s tough not to hear a bit of quotidian struggle in the tune. “Back in suburbia, kids get high and make out on the train,” Robyn recounts in the album’s most iconic line. “Innocent, incomprehensible boredom takes a hold again.” This is Spoon’s “The Way We Get By” for the internet generation – fitted with a robotic heart and covered in silver spraypaint.
It took me a long time to get past this fearsome foursome of songs, and in some ways I’m a little disappointed that I eventually did. On Body Talk Pt. 1’s second half, Röyksopp collaboration “None of Dem” tries too hard to fit a mood that doesn’t mesh with the rest of the album. Diplo’s production credit on “Dancehall Queen” asserts itself with the dubstep tendencies of his recent work, strapping Robyn’s easy-going voice to a ponderous beat that just drags it down. The album recovers with a stirring, string-backed vocal performance on “Hang With Me” and closer “Jag Vet En Dejlig Rosa,” a sparsely-backed traditional Swedish song, but it never quite makes it back to the energy of the opening salvo. It’s a nice way to return to ground, but it leaves me with nostalgia for the launch.
A lyric of that final track translates to “her voice gives great solace, like the gentle sound of the nightingale, so courteous and delightful.” It’s a pretty image, if not entirely accurate – in her best moments Robyn is delightful but not gentle, set on thrilling and inspiring rather than simply coming along for the ride. Her voice and lyrics are what drive Body Talk Pt. 1’s best tracks, not the stirring rhythms below. Rather than fading below those bumping beats, Robyn soars above, drawing attention and earning respect. There are some bumps in the road, but they end up as afterthoughts. Normally I might be sour on an album that falters on a quarter of the tracks. Here, I’m just glad I got a chance to hear the rest of them. Over and over and over. Words by Chris Barth.
84 — [Rating Scale]
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