June 2, 2010

Album Review: Robyn's Body Talk, Pt. 1

In 2005, Robyn made a surprise return to the spotlight when she released her self-titled effort, Robyn, on her own label imprint, Konichiwa Records. The album marked a rebirth for the Swedish pop star, who in a mainstream sense, faded away in the U.S. after scoring just a few hits ("Do You Know [What It Takes]," "Do You Really Want Me? [Show Respect]" and of course, the CK One-inspired "Show Me Love") back in the late 90s under the usual compromising conditions of a major label. Robyn instead challenged the perception of how a pop artist could make themselves commercially successful without letting go of their creative control. Tracks such as "With Every Heartbeat," "Handle Me" and "Who's That Girl?" combined the sugar sweet goodness of quality pop perfection melodies that hadn't been seen for the better part of the decade, yet infused unusual hints of hip-hop and world beat all with well produced synths and electronics that still put everything Lady Gaga and Ke$ha have done to shame (For what it's worth, Robyn told Bon Magazine in March of 2010 that she isn't a fan of Lady Gaga's music.) Ironically, it was her way of doing everything on her own terms that later gave Robyn a re-release for the masses in 2008 on her new (major label) home, Interscope Records.

Fast forward to 2010 in a world where everyone thinks Lady Gaga is bringing something completely original to the music scene, and yet, Robyn after all these years continues to fight for your attention as she raises the bar for her contemporaries. For one, the singer has set out an ambitious plan to release three albums by the end of the year.

The first album, Body Talk, Pt. 1, is everything you could hope for in a modern day pop album. It finds Robyn exactly where we last found her: Battling the industry and getting bored of other people's music, combating gender roles and social expectations of women, paying homage to her influences and of course, pouring her heart out. While Robyn was very much electronic and dance oriented from start to finish, Body Talk, Pt. 1 brings together a cohesive collection of the singer's multiple facets. It begins with the hip-hop infused "Don't F*cking Tell Me What to Do," a track that sees Robyn reciting a list of personal vices that her inner brat refutes to correct. The standout lead single, "Dancing On My Own," is this album's "With Every Heartbeat." The song revolves around a lonesome club goer as pulsating glimmers and electric drum beats make you understand the emotions running through her head as she steps foot on the dance floor all by herself awaiting the chance to be noticed. This isn't the first time Robyn addresses her raw emotional side, either, as she puts her heart on display in "Hang With Me," an acoustic piano driven ballad that is actually the complete opposite of "Dancing On My Own" (This time, the protagonist of the song does have someone around but she fears the companionship may lead to something much more serious.)

Along for the ride on Body Talk, Pt. 1 are production spots from some of electronic music's hottest commodities. DJ and producer, Diplo, helps out on the standout potential single, "Dance Hall Queen," an reggae-driven homage to 90s Euro dance musicians such as Technotronic, Neneh Cherry and Ace of Base. While their styles have become the trend within the present day pop market circle, Robyn calls her fellow counterparts out to make something of their own creation and capitalize on success that way. The Norwegian duo, Röyksopp, is also featured on "None of Dem," a spooky, futuristic electro-pop track that again confronts modern music's continual failure to reinvent itself.

When the album concludes with a seemingly left-field choice of covering "Jag Vet En Dejilg Rosa," a traditional Swedish ballad, it really doesn't feel so out of place. In the video for "Dancing On My Own," we see Robyn in a dark club moving her arms around her waist to mimic the arms of a lover she doesn't have. If there's any symbolism in this image, it's that Robyn never needed anyone's guiding hand to make it in this industry. Body Talk, Pt. 1 is further proof that the purest pop genius relies on herself and not a silly costume or elaborate stage show to bare her heart for an audience. And to think, this is only one-third of the hand she's putting down on the table...

Robyn's Body Talk, Pt. 1 will be released June 15, 2010 on Cherry Tree Records. Body Talk, Pt. 2 and Body Talk, Pt. 3 will see their releases sometime in the fall and winter of 2010, respectively.

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