#3. Robyn – Body Talk Pt. 1 & 2
Robyn was not an instant obsession for me, as I’m sure she wasn’t for many Pitchfork readers when the gatekeeping webzine juggernaut slapped an 8.2 rating on her self-titled (but third full-length) release back in 2005. At the time, it was the latest in a string of mainstream Top-40 pop and rap releases that the online publication was lauding that year (see Kanye West’s Late Registraion and singles by Kelly Clarkson, Amerie, Ciara, and Gwen Stefani) in an attempt to show their readership that sometimes music seemingly manufactured by major labels and aimed for the charts could still be – according to their superior critical barometer – good.
I was one of the presumably many who balked at the notion of giving myself over to such a vapid and lifelessly manicured genre of music. There was no appeal there for me, and I intentionally wrote it off. Only through the persistence of a few friends over the next couple of years did I really concede to give Robyn’s eponymous release a second chance, and I’m really, truly glad I did. I’m fairly confident it was “Handle Me” that first pulled me in with it’s light bounce and featherweight chorus – so much lyrical swagger delivered sweetly over crisp, swimming acoustic strums. I can honestly say that, as much as I had initially thought this music was a dime-a-dozen, I realized that I hadn’t really heard anything quite as clean and well-written with such a vivid personality at the reigns. “Bum Like You”, “Be Mine” and “Who’s That Girl” emphatically sealed the deal, and there was no going back. I was hooked.
So, when murmurs began this past year that a new Robyn release was due, my attention was understandably piqued. Though my love for her had only blossomed over the last couple of years, it had been a veritable eternity by musical standards since her last album was released. And so I waited, as many eventual converts did, with bated breath, wondering what Robyn had in store for us. I couldn’t help but let my mind wander, envisioning how I basically wanted a rehash of her last record, but with less slow songs, another “Who’s That Girl”, and at least two songs that sounded like “Be Mine”. That’s what I wanted. “Give me what I want, Robyn. Pop music is aural gratification, is it not? Gratify me.”
And then, as if on cue, Body Talk Pt. 1 appeared – a brief tease of an EP, which at the time was still being thought of as one half of a possible two-part release. And what did Robyn have to say to her fans? To the critics? To me? “Don’t F*cking Tell Me What To Do”. There it was, the first track on the EP, and she’s laying it plain. She won’t cater, she won’t kowtow, and moreover, a lot of the things in her life are killing her slowly, including but not limited to: her drinking, her smoking, her diet, her heels, her shopping, her insomnia, her record label, her phone, her email, her work hours, her manager, her mother, her boss, the TV, the nagging, her boyfriend, her talking… But don’t dare suggest any remedies. Didn’t you hear the woman? Don’t tell her what to do.
The EP continues with themes of looking inward, but you might have a hard time telling due to the sonic bubbling-over in each of the remaining tracks. It’s hard to hear what Robyn’s really saying sometimes, mainly because you’re having so much damn fun. What’s that? “Fembots” is kind of about the societal roles of women? “Dancing On My Own” is about loneliness, dejection, and self-identity vs. self-destruction, and “Dancehall Queen” and “None of Dem” expand on these themes? Crap, I should probably set this drink down before I spill it.
The party slows by the seventh track, a lovely acoustic version of “Hang With Me”, which appears in it’s proper version on both Pt. 2 and the Body Talk full-length, which brings me to the differences between this EP, Body Talk Pt. 2, and the full-length version of the album, and what warrants addressing these releases separately…
Each EP contains five cuts that appear on the album proper, and three “B-sides” belonging solely to their respective EP. The casualties from Pt. 1 include the aforementioned version of “Hang With Me”, the chin-up pop anthem “Cry When You Get Older”, and the haunting and sparsely delivered “Jag Vet en Dejlig Rosa”, a traditional Swedish folk song made popular by Monica Zetterlund. Body Talk Pt. 2 offers us the outtakes “Include Me Out”, “Criminal Intent”, and an “acoustic” version of “Indestructible”, all of which are solid in their own right.
It’s here where Robyn’s simultaneous prolificacy and generosity causes a bit of a problem: Now that Body Talk: The Full-Length has been released, we as fans are left to examine the tracklists of both EPs against the final product and determine whether we agree with the various inclusions and omissions. I, for one, find it criminal that “Criminal Intent” was passed over for “We Dance To The Beat” on the final tracklist. Similarly, “Include Me Out” or “Cry When You Get Older” should have trumped “Get Myself Together”. But, given the context of the remaining songs on the full-length, it would seem that the overall aim was to keep the beat going non-stop, to keep the party going and the club hopping – and admittedly, those tracks may not have fit the bill as well…
But maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe Robyn isn’t just a popstar. Maybe – even though she makes ‘vapid’ dance pop – maybe she’s actually an artist, carefully honing her craft, her message, and her vehicle… and maybe I, and anyone else for that matter, shouldn’t f*cking tell her what to do.