You probably don't remember Robyn from the '90s pop explosion that smothered us with sloppy sexual innuendo and an endless procession of bare-midriffs. She never squeezed into a red latex body-suit nor did she date an overly-coiffed member of a boy band, after all. At the time, music execs insisted that Robyn, then just a teenager, dumb down her music to a sugary hook and chorus, something easily digestible and radio-friendly. The resulting songs (most memorably, "Show Me Love" and "Do You Know What It Takes") were palatable enough, but were quickly forgotten once Britney Spears and her ilk strutted onto the scene.
Robyn fell off the radar for a good while, still releasing an album here or there, but with no traction in the US music market. That is, until 2005's self-titled LP that was released on Robyn's own label, Konichiwa Records, and produced on her own terms. The bubblegum pop mold was set ablaze and out of the smoke came a sassier and liberated Robyn armed with newly-minted electro beats and some heavy-hitting producers in tow, most notably Swedish duo the Knife. Being true to herself proved profitable, as the new album became a global smash and demand had Robyn touring on the same set of songs for years.
After a brief hiatus, Robyn is back with the first installment of a three-part series, all to be released in 2010. Taking note of our culture's obsession with immediacy, Robyn had the idea to eschew conventional album-making, which often takes years, and instead release songs in small groups as they came to her. And audiophiles couldn't be happier.
Body Talk Part 1 starts with an attention-grabbing anthem for the overworked called "Don't F*@!ing Tell Me What to Do." Robyn enumerates all the irritants that are "killing her:" her PMS, her mother, her diet, her label, her ego, the TV, and even her heels. Breaking from her past of giving into outside pressure to be something she isn't, Robyn is making it abundantly clear: she's running things now so don't get in her way.
Now that she's marked her territory, Robyn morphs into a cyborg with sex running through her hardware on "Fembot." Through a vocoder filter, her robotic voice proclaims: "Fembots have feelings, too!" She goes on to boast about her "automatic booty applications" and her status as a "very scientifically advanced hot mama." It's as fun as it sounds. Next comes "Dancing On My Own," the first single that's reminiscent of "With Every Heartbeat" and one of the best songs she's recorded to date. We find Robyn "all messed up and so outta line," watching her ex move onto the next girl while she dances on her own. "I'm in the corner watching you kiss her/ I'm right over here, why can't you see me?" Broken bottles crack under her stilettos, but the real mess here is all that heartbreak on the dancefloor. It's relatable, it's empowering, it's a bona fide hit.
The dancefloor also serves as the stage on "Dancehall Queen" and "None of Dem." The first, produced by Diplo (the beat maker responsible for M.I.A.'s early success), came out of a conversation the two had about Ace of Base (!) and finds Robyn dancing solo once again. But, this time, things have changed; she's reclaimed her confidence as well as her iron-fisted rule over her danceclub kingdom. The latter track, produced by Norwegian duo Royksopp, serves as a continuation of their 2009 collaboration "The Girl and the Robot." Robyn complains, "None of these beats ever break the law," but this jam is downright criminal. Once again, the pairing of Royksopp's tribal beats and Robyn's vulnerable voice is a match made in electro heaven.
On that high note, we leave the dancefloor for Body Talk Part 1's final two numbers. "Hang with Me" is stripped down to just vocals and lilting piano keys as Robyn warns: "Just don't fall recklessly, headlessly in love with me/ Cause it's gonna be all heartbreak, wistfully painful, and insanity." As if we have a choice in the matter; we've already fallen head over heels for this girl. The album closes with "Jag Vet En Dejlig Rosa," a cover of a Swedish folk song that sounds like a lullaby. It's a strange way to end a dance record, but, if we've learned anything from our time with Robyn, it's that nobody tells her what to do.
Body Talk Part 1 is out now. Dance your broken heart out.