CD Review of Robyn by Robyn
Recommended if you like
Kylie Minogue, Goldfrapp, All Saints
Label
Konichiwa/Cherry Tree/Interscope
Robyn: Robyn

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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A
merican radio sucks so bad – and has sucked for so long – that it hardly even makes sense to point it out anymore, but Robyn is such a terrific example of the dust bunnies on our airwaves that it’s impossible to resist pointing out that this album was released in Sweden three years ago, and it still sounds hipper than anything you’re hearing on your favorite station right now.

If you remember Robyn at all, the prospect of a cutting-edge pop record from her in 2008 probably seems a little ludicrous; sure, she scored a trio of American Top 40 hits in the mid ‘90s, but those were the days when program directors were so hungry for pop tarts that even Mandy Moore and Jessica Simpson landed in heavy rotation – and she hasn’t been heard from here since. You’re forgiven for assuming she’s spent the last decade looking for the right European reality show to launch her comeback bid.

That protracted silence, as it turns out, was the product of Robyn’s refusal to go along with RCA/Jive’s plans for her career – plans that, as you can probably guess, relied on a continual stream of written-to-order teeny-pop singles. Despite a steady stream of hits in Sweden in Norway, she’s spent the last decade struggling to get her music heard in the rest of the world; to that end, she released Robyn on her own label, and has spent the last several years lining up distribution deals for the rest of the world.

Robyn

These days, RCA is little more than a logo under the corporate umbrella created by the Sony/BMG merger, and Jive is a shadow of its platinum-coated late ‘90s self. Both labels have made bigger mistakes in the last 10 years than passing on Robyn, in other words – but the wave of adoring press that’s greeted Robyn is still a terrific example of why the industry is in such dire straits (and it has to feel pretty sweet for her, too).

What we’ve got here is a Europop dance album, one that includes all the chilly vocals, mechanical beats, and icy cascades of synths you’d expect – but with extra-large helpings of hooks, smarts, and humor to go along with them. Robyn is that rarest of beasts: A dancefloor record that wants you to shake your ass and think. And laugh, too – witness “Konichiwa Bitches”:

Who could have guessed that 2008 would bring us a single featuring a dance diva who sounds like a helium-fed Missy Elliott and looks like Sandy Duncan?

Robyn has chosen her partners wisely here, teaming up with Kleerup, the Knife, and Klas Åhlund of the Teddybears, all of whom do right by her – the production is neither as monolithic nor as transparently gimmicky as most of what you hear on the Top 40 or club charts. There are nifty sonic touches buried in every track – even a tossed-off, borderline-novelty trifle like “Robotboy” has surprisingly well-crafted moments. Whether or not you enjoy this type of music, you’re liable to find yourself admiring the way Robyn was assembled – and getting a kick out of her lyrics, which run the gamut from cheeky to poignant in a genre whose connection with words has always been tenuous at best.

Will it spark a triumphant second act for Robyn on U.S. charts? Historically, American audiences tend to like their Europop when it comes packaged in cheese-scented, one-hit-wonder-sized nuggets (just ask Lou Bega or the Vengaboys) – but there’s never been a pop landscape as fractured as this one, and the three-year delay has given our ears a chance to catch up with the album’s sound, so you could very well spend the summer hearing tracks like “Handle Me” and “Every Heartbeat” blaring out of nearby speakers. Even if it tanks, though, Robyn is all but sure to go down as one of the tightest, smartest pop albums of the year. She won’t have such a hard time getting her next album onto these shores.

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