Robyn RobynBody Talk
There was a moment when Vicky Pollard transcended her nature as a fictional character to become a national sport, in Little (Great) Britain, but also in other places. If you got a little bit stuck on “Little Britain”, the most normal thing was that sooner or later you would end up answering somebody with a string of “yeah but no but yeah but no but yeah” that was equally applicable to situations as varied as “Do you feel like eating out?”, “Are you a fan of Tony Blair?” or “Did you like the end of “Lost”?” However it was, like any virus, in the end it ends up remitting, until something makes it come back double-strength. This is what has happened to me with Robyn ’s “Body Talk”: the tacky British bird has hit me again like a strain of the African flu transported by tiger mosquitoes. This is an album that definitely causes symptoms of Vicky Pollard syndrome the first time you hear it: you start out with a doubtful bewildered feeling, and once you have been given the necessary medicine, it’s followed by a really hyper rush.
The first time that you hit “play”, a majestic “yeah” is inevitably formed over your head: nobody is going to deny that the first time you listen you are dazzled more effectively than by bling-bling deliriums. The hits just keep coming one after the other, and before you have reached the fifth song, you want an oxygen tank so that you have enough strength left for what is still to come. Soon, however, you realise that here there is a certain aftertaste of “but no ”: you’ve already heard this before. In fact, you already know two-thirds of “Body Talk” by heart if you have paid just a little attention in the last year: five of the fifteen songs on this album come from “Body Talk Pt. 1” and five others come from “Body Talk Pt. 2”. At the beginning of 2010, Robyn Carlsson promised that during these twelve months she would shake off the lethargy of recent years (almost three years had passed already since “Robyn”, her previous work), laying three albums on the table. In the end she has managed to do it, but with a little trick: as you can see from the title of this third album (which will be distributed directly without the “Pt. 3” behind it), “Body Talk” eliminates the fillers (or what the Swede considers rubbish) of the first two albums, in an exercise of highly-refined editing that ends up resulting in a total greatest hits album.
Having gotten past the clubbier, nocturnal shine of the first listening, it’s time to get serious and start to put things in perspective: how do all of the (new and old) songs work as a whole? Again, the “yeah ” is inevitable: Robyn has blown off the ballads and concentrated on musical drugging. Even the more moderate moments ( “Hang with Me”, “Call your Girlfriend”) end up breaking with muffled booms that end up showing the songs’ dance edges. In fact, “Body Talk” seems to be structured in sections that explore the different sides of dance music, conceived of like a Rubik’s cube. The six first songs embark on a reformulation of the bases of the latest generation of electro-diva music, followed by an interlude of two songs that should fall on certain wannabes like an intelligent, well-understood lesson in insipidness. Almost in the centre of the album, Robyn sinks down towards the depths of more hardcore, drastic female vulgarity, the kind of crass girls who shout for joints and pounding techno that can break mixed-drink glasses in the hands of the unwary. Finally, the last four songs are a sort of free-for-all in which anything goes, from the Diplo seal of “Dancehall Queen” to the Kylie -style elegance of “Stars 4-Ever”. In spite of everything, there are some sections that work better than others (the end is certainly dispersed) and there are even incongruities in the order of the songs (wasn’t it clear that “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do” was one of the best opening songs in recent history?) So, with our lips pursed, we whisper, “but no .”
Like all compulsive repetition of two intertwined concepts, this “yeah but no but yeah but no but yeah” has to end at one of the two extremes: with “yeah” or with “but no”. This is where we have to surrender to the evidence that, if there were a real estate agency of the musical world, the price that would have to be paid for “Body Talk” would only be accessible for cubs from the Upper-East Side. That’s how heavy the concentration of hits per square meter is in this album. Among the new songs, there are undeniable pearls like “Indestructible” (the same that appeared in “Body Talk Pt. 2” in acoustic version) that boasts a trotting epic with deliriums of medieval heroes and a use of claps that borders on perfection; or “Time Machine” (produced by Max Martin) and its suggestion of a parallel timeline in which Britney never went so far as to confuse recalcitrant vulgarity with hardcore 5am clubbing. The rest of the jewels are already known: the refinement of beats like New Order in “Love Kills”, the synthetic emo-dance “Dancing on my Own”, the Faithless meets Kelis of “None of Dem (Feat. Röyksopp )”.
Everything is well supported by the Swede’s gift for unusually intelligent lyrics if we keep in mind the electro-diva panorama: here there are plenty of declarations of intentions like that of “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do” or devastating lines like “none of these boys can dance, not a single one of ‘dem stand a chance / All of ‘dem girls are mess, I’ve seen it all before, I’m not impressed / None of ‘dem get my sex, none of ‘dem move my intellect” in “None of Dem”. In almost all of Robyn’s songs it seems like she’s giving you a spicy-flavoured candy camouflaged in the wrapping of a Werther’s Original: when she talks about love, she lets it slip out that she isn’t as good as she looks, and when she talks about the dance floor, it’s as if she were scrutinising it from heights (far) above the DJ’s box and even the VIP area. A she-wolf in lamb’s clothing? Something like that.
It’s already been said: “Body Talk” is like a Rubik’s cube. As such, the colours that should be organised one on each side mixed together to make surprising, stimulating combinations. Nothing is what it seems in Robyn’s album. Well, only one thing is what it seems: this is a tremendous greatest hits collection. And for this reason, the compulsive repetition can’t end with “but no.” No. This ends here and now with an enormous “yeah.”
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