Robyn: Body Talk Pt 2 | CD review

Robyn's new album is fast, short, and made in a rush – which is good for us fans, writes Tom Ewing

Hang With Me, Robyn's new single and the centrepiece of this second of three Body Talk albums she plans to release this year, is about the boundaries between friendship and love. So are a lot of pop singles, of course, usually sitting bitterly on the "friendship" side and sniping over the border. But Robyn takes "just friends" more seriously, and her song is a checklist of what that phrase might mean, with a tender but firm warning not to fall "headlessly" in love with her, whatever else happens.

But people do fall in love with her, and this generous and pragmatic streak is part of the reason why. She patiently toured, reissued and talked about her self-titled 2005 album for half a decade as different countries switched on to it. It earned her a deeply loyal worldwide fanbase, but you can forgive her for wanting the follow-up to be a little more spontaneous.

So the Body Talk albums aren't a grand thematic conceit or a decadent folly, they're a way of getting material out quickly and relatively cheaply. Robyn has been entirely candid about the working process behind the records: these songs are just the ones she had finished when it was time to release the album. Even so, as with any good trilogy, the second episode has a different flavour from the first. Body Talk Pt 1 was a tour of Robyn's world, spotlighting her urge to experiment and play stylistic dress-up. Body Talk Pt 2 is the all-action follow-up: faster, harder, clubbier. There are no tongue-in-cheek dancehall try-outs here, no Swedish folk songs, nothing as quirky as Fembot. This is the Body Talk for people who like their Robyn upbeat, fierce and dancefloor-ready.

That's not to say her quality control is higher. Robyn sometimes plays up her distance from more tightly-managed pop acts, and her fans love her for it, but actually her hit rate isn't much better than a Kylie or Sophie Ellis-Bextor record. The big difference is that those acts' sub-par songs are just greyer versions of their good ones: Robyn's usually have an interesting idea behind them. The worst thing here is Criminal Intent, but even that has a lovely, draggy vibe reminiscent of Britney's Piece of Me, and a comic storyline involving Robyn getting arrested for freaky dancing to her own song. And if the vocal loop on We Dance to the Beat starts annoying you – as well it might – you can puzzle out the riddles, one-liners and jokes in the lyrics, or just bathe in the early-Orbital keyboard sounds.

Before it gets playful, though, Body Talk Pt 2 is inviting. Opener In My Eyes is Robyn's most welcoming song yet, a warm swell of synths like a friend pulling you on to the dancefloor: "Little star, I got you – you'll be OK." The first Body Talk found Robyn bored or grief-stricken in the club, but In My Eyes' bouncy communality sets the tone for much of the new record. "This one's for the grannies," she sings on Include Me Out, amusingly enough over the album's crunchiest beats. And Hang With Me is the perfect counterpoint to Pt 1's epic Dancing On My Own, an olive branch to its clenched fist: disappointment in love isn't the end of everything, after all. That it also sounds like the best Pet Shop Boys record in 15 years doesn't hurt.

These three are some of the year's strongest pop tracks, but they're not the best thing here. That would be Body Talk Pt 2's unlikeliest success, the sweary Snoop Dogg collaboration U Should Know Better. For the last decade or so, Snoop has been turning himself into a cuddly international treasure, so his now-typically avuncular turn here isn't such a shock. But Robyn makes him rap over a breakneck electro jam, which makes his sang-froid a little more impressive. She, meanwhile, is gleefully at home at this velocity, delivering the album's most quotable, ridiculous lines: "You know when in Rome I sat down with the Romans/ Said we need a black Pope and she'd better be a woman."

Once the Body Talk trilogy is complete, it'll be tempting to snip half the songs and turn it into a blinding full-length album. But assuming you're happy to buy into the experiment, these quick-turnaround releases are fascinating by themselves. As Lady Gaga also found with The Fame Monster, eight tracks turns out to be an ideal size for a pop record: short enough to highlight the great songs and demand quick replay, but roomy enough to allow a few detours and surprises. If fans are right, and lip-bitten ballad closer Indestructible is a preview of Body Talk Pt 3, that record might be the big sentimental climax. Mouthwatering, but this is a miniature feast in itself.


Tom Ewing

The GuardianTramp

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