Thursday, November 25, 2010
Review: Robyn *Body Talk*
[Originally written for Pretty Much Amazing.]
No genre of music, not even pop, is more associated with frivolity than dance music. Dance artists are often seen as anonymous and their output disposable. Their purview, the club, is a hedonistic temple of drinking, drugs, and (ultimately) sex. Yet nothing damns the genre more than the fact that its purpose is first and foremost utilitarian – to move the human body.
Robyn Carlsson’s brand of dance music is not an exception that proves the rule, but a one-woman validation of the genre, of how great it can be (and sometimes is) when treated seriously. Her music demands that you dance, but also think, to feel the beat and your emotions, too. Robyn’s integrity, mastery, and playfulness make her devoid of any need for qualification. She doesn't make great dance music: she makes great music.
Her latest album, Body Talk, is the culmination of an almost year-long project. Eager to get her new material out to her starving fans (it has been five years since her last album, Robyn) she released two short albums, Body Talk Pt 1 and Pt 2, soon after they were recorded. Body Talk Pt 3, which will be released concurrently with the full-length Body Talk in many regions (including North America), completes the series with five new tracks. Body Talk, on the other hand, is a 15-track summation of this flurry of material. It features five songs off each of the three short Body Talk albums, resequenced into a new whole. It’s one-stop shopping for those sorry souls who have not yet gotten on board, as well as the official record of the Body Talk project.
There are two questions a review of Body Talk must answer: how good is the new material, and how well do all these songs fit together? The answer to the first question is – they are as consistently terrific as Pt 1’s first half, the high-point thus far. “Indestructible” get’s the full electro treatment, and while I prefer the acoustic version off of Pt 2, the song remains a gem. Its instrumentation cleverly augments the lyric. Robyn’s vocal melody is swallowed by the mix, while tracks and tracks of synths envelop her like a sonic armor. Indestructible, indeed. The sunny pop of “Call Your Girlfriend” hides a darker lyric. Robyn offers a new lover advice for how to ditch his girlfriend: “You tell her that the only way her heart will mend is when she learns to love again. And it won’t make sense right now but you’re still her friend. And then you let her down easy.” Even when she’s a homewrecker, Robyn has a heart of gold. On the delirious Max Martin produced “Time Machine,” she fires up the flux capacitor and speeds back in time at 88 mph to rectify her bad behavior. The best of the five is “Get Myself Together,” with a melody that rivals the album’s first two singles, “Dancing On My Own” and “Hang With Me.”
So how do these songs fit together? Surprisingly well, considering the somewhat disparate sound of each Body Talk album. Most of these tracks are anthemic, sing-a-long dance pop, with some more beat-oriented tunes thrown in for variety. However, none of the ballads from Pt 1 or 2 have made the cut, which means the album never gives you a breather. Body Talk has one major flaw: where the hell is “Cry When You Get Older?” The song is so far superior to most of the others that its exclusion is baffling. I also have some minor gripes about the sequencing of the album. “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do” sounds odd as anything other than an opening track, as it was on Pt 1. On Body Talk, it comes after the early high of “Fembot,” and ends up slowing the otherwise breathless onward rush of its first eight tracks. Also, the album sags about three-quarters of the way in, with its two weakest songs, “None of Dem” and “We Dance to the Beat,” placed back-to-back.
Still, Body Talk is an embarrassment of riches. I prefer listening to the short albums, especially for “Cry When You Get Older” and the ballads. But no matter how you consume it, Body Talk matches Robyn's brilliance, and further shows that no one puts music to a beat as marvelously as Robyn Carlsson.