Robyn’s Body Talk LP is one of the year’s finest, most progressive pop albums, but it’s also something of a minor letdown as a standalone project. By culling five songs apiece from the Body Talk Pt. 1 and Body Talk Pt. 2 EPs released earlier this year and supplementing them with five new tracks, the album smacks of sloppy seconds. While the new material will be available as Body Talk Pt. 3 in select markets, that almost everything is being lumped together here leaves the lingering impression that the series ran out of steam before it was finished.
What works in Body Talk‘s favor, then, is that it provides an overview of the project in its entirety, rather than placing the focus on any one particular segment. To that end, it’s a testament to Robyn’s truly forward-thinking take on contemporary pop music and to her rare ability to infuse chilly, futuristic soundscapes with genuine emotion and soul. On lead single “Indestructible,” Klas Åhlund lays down a propulsive 4/4 beat that’s driven by an endlessly looped arpeggio, as Robyn sings, “I’m gonna love you like I’ve never been hurt before/I’m gonna love you like I’m indestructible,” punctuating her mission statement with a shout of “This is hardcore!” It’s that tension between Robyn’s lyrics and performances, which can border on emo when taken in isolation, and music that’s entirely synthetic that makes “Indestructible” one of Robyn’s best singles and that makes the whole of Body Talk tick.
“Indestructible” is easily the standout among the five new tracks here, but, as was the case with the lesser material on Body Talk Pt. 2, even second-tier Robyn songs are pretty damn tremendous. “Time Machine” continues to delve into the singer’s fascination with technology in a fairly literal way (“All I want is a DeLorean/If I could go just like that/I’d be takin’ it back” is not the most subtle chorus she’s written), but the song is still noteworthy for reuniting the singer with producer Max Martin, who lays down his most exuberant, innovative track in years. Even if they seem relatively slight in comparison, “Get Myself Together” and “Stars 4-Ever” work in context alongside previously released cuts like “Fembot” and “Love Kills.”
Body Talk impresses for its thematic focus and laser-precise editing. Other than Radiohead, few other artists have delved so deeply into the disconnection between modern technology and human experience, and Body Talk emerges as pop music’s answer to the Ghost in the Shell series. At turns brokenhearted (“Dancing on My Own” is represented here by its radio version, but it’s still an exquisite single) and angry (“Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do” still hits its marks as a survey of both modern ills and vices), Body Talk is a volatile record that takes pop and dance music to some incredibly tricky, complex places. Early in the album, Robyn sings, “I’ve got some news for you/Fembots have feelings too,” and the remainder of Body Talk draws those feelings into a detailed blueprint.