Body Talk Pt 2 EP
By Calum Marsh | 14 September 2010
“We all fall apart and make mistakes,” Robyn sings at the beginning of album-opener “In My Eyes,” and yet here she betrays no capacity for error herself. Where Body Talk Pt 1 served up tentative talk-piece “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do” as its introductory course, “In My Eyes”—a sleek, propulsive song about finding encouragement and self-confidence in the arms of your lover—is straight business from the start. “Little star, I’ve got you,” she sings, almost paternally protective, and you get a real sense of the warmth and compassion Robyn brings. You also get a sense, importantly, of the position of this Body Talk in relation to the first iteration: we’re jumping right into the weighty pop stuff because Pt 2 is exactly that. This is the sequel, the centre of a broader three-piece whole. These songs find Robyn at her most confident and competent, sidestepping diversions and experiments in favor of a brawny, guns-blazing approach to the streamlined dance-pop she dabbled in the first time around. It’s an attempt to improve upon an idea of perfection.
In a sense, remarkably, Body Talk Pt 2 succeeds in doing just that: song for song, this is probably a more perfect album than its predecessor. On the surface this seems like simply a matter of increased quality control—releasing this much new material this quickly is not an approach one imagines conducive to much serious editing, and a somewhat poor hit-to-miss ratio was a criticism widely leveled at Body Talk Pt 1; whether by scraping the duds or just getting luckier, the general consensus seems to be that Body Talk Pt 2 is the more consistent record overall. But my thinking is that Pt 2‘s veneer of infallibility is in fact the result of Robyn and her record-producing compatriots having played it safe pretty well all the way through. Or mostly safe, anyway—we still get “Criminal Intent,” a Diplo-produced wildcard that, unsurprisingly, has been repeatedly cited as the album’s sole flop.
But here’s the thing: “Criminal Intent,” in my estimation, is the most satisfying track on the album, and I find it satisfying for exactly the same reason it seems, on a cursory listen, so out of place. It’s refreshingly silly and a little haphazard, and thus a welcome respite from perfection. Because, though perfection can sound really really great and can satisfy enormously, it can also, over the course of a thirty minute album, be exhausting. “Hang With Me,” “In My Eyes,” and “Love Kills” all sound really terrific and Robyn hits all the right notes and those synths gleam and shimmer exactly as they should; song-for-song they’re probably better than, say, Pt 1‘s “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do,” “Dancehall Queen,” and “Jag Vet En Dejlig Rosa.” But the sheer variety of styles and themes present in those three tracks alone make a compelling case for how much more interesting a listening experience the last album was compared to its successor.
There’s an incredibly fun moment tucked away near the end of “Include Me Out” where Robyn takes a break from the hook and lays down a few lines of quasi-rap about getting a “beat-beat” for all of her “whatchamacallits doin’ whatever with whoever they like,” but the change-up is despairingly brief. I wanted more moments like that; I wanted her to take more risks. Body Talk Pt 2 aims for conventional perfection and lands impressively close to target, but it comes at the cost of the spontaneity and humor that made Body Talk Pt 1 such an enjoyable, if modestly flawed, introduction to the project. Somehow the “mistakes” she made before—experiments with Swedish folk tunes, reggae-pop, and fringe-aesthetic miscellanea, having achieved varying degrees of success with each attempt—have become character-building idiosyncrasies she now seems borderline faceless without. Robyn would do better to be less perfect and more daringly herself.