Last month Robyn played in New York City, and one person who was in the audience said she was surrounded by tons of well-dressed-but-becoming-undressed dudes in the crowd, groping each other while the Swede commiserated about urban heartbreak and not wanting to be alone in the club. She said the exhilaration of the pure dance experience got her right into the music, well worth the exhausting post-concert train ride home. Conversely, I read a blog post the next day from another concertgoer complaining about how sweaty and crowded the place had been, making it impossible to enjoy the music. One person wanted to dance, the other person wanted to appreciate the whole scene. And while Robyn’s not the first to straddle the happy/sad line, Body Talk Pt. 2 marks a fiercer, more aggressive shift away from the pop contemplation of Pt. 1, making for a discotheque-ready sound.
Pop stars ought to have goals. Lady Gaga wants to have an exhibition at the Louvre. 50 Cent wants to have sex with a porn star. Britney Spears wants custody of her kids. Robyn wanted to deliver three albums this year, and lo, she’s two-thirds of the way toward her goal, with three months left. Not bad for an artist who hadn’t released an album since 2005, but given how well her newest music has been received, I imagine the impetus to keep going was far more considerable than if Pt. 1 had been met with sighs.
Pt. 2 starts off more assertively, but not angrier. The driving drum-machine beats of opener “In My Eyes” outpace anything off Pt. 1, but the lyrics are no less tender as Robyn talks about finding love on the dance floor in spite of the world getting her down (big surprise). The somber, previously acoustic pangs of “Hang With Me” from Pt. 1 have been bulked up with a buoyant rhythm and enough swirling instrumentation around the chorus to transform the song’s ethos into something resembling happiness. Musically, none of the songs sound as unhappy as anything on Pt. 1, and given that this is probably meant to be played in a dancehall and not just on headphones, that makes a big difference for what Robyn is trying to do.
In fact, Robyn’s refashioned her edge into something much dirtier and slinkier — the crunchy beats of “Include Me Out” come hard and fast after Robyn dryly intones, “It is really very simple — just a single pulse repeated at a regular interval,” describing the main sonic trick employed on a lot of her dance-ready songs. “Criminal Intent,” with its deep-throated pitch-shifted chorus and lyrics about being on trial for being too dangerous of a dancer is delivered with more malice than sass, as one of those “single pulses” repeats over and over again. Yeah, it’s conceptually a little corny, but it’s got a concept, which is different than most filler pop songs.
And you gotta think Snoop Dogg was more enthused about his spot on “U Should Know better” than when he did “California Gurls” with Katy Perry. For one, he’s got more than one verse, and Robyn sounds like Snoop’s favorite kind of badass girl when she spits lines like “Choppin’ heads off with Madame Guillotine/ Even the French know better than to fuck with me.” By the end of the song when she declares that “the prince of darkness” and “the whole industry” know better than to fuck with her, she’s asserted her will all over the damn place. Considering how Snoop’s recent cameos seem to have been relegated to “I wrote this on the toilet, where’s my check?” status, it’s refreshing, if not peculiar, to hear him cutting on a song many of his fans will never hear.
The eight-song format ends up being perfect for the second installation of Body Talk, which is less emotionally wrought than its predecessors, but if Robyn’s cure for a stressed heart is going hard on the dance floor, who are we to disagree? There’s less filler and by the time it all rounds out with the classical-tinged “Indestructible” (a sure bet to be fully finished on Pt. 3), you’ll realize that Robyn could’ve put together a single album filled with all-knockout jams, but it’s better than she got to exercise her brain trying to fit in everything she wanted. She’s simply operating at a different level right now, for better or worse.