The advent of the compact disc distended the length of your average album by about 30 percent, turning the long player into a really long player and allowing rappers with a fondness for skits and rockers with a penchant for grandiosity to indulge in their most gratuitous inclinations. You’d have to go as far back as the year Lady Gaga was born to find as many new pop albums with less than 10 tracks as there are today. In fact, of all the things Gaga has helped re-popularize in the last 16 months, the EP-length album is probably the least extravagant, providing a practical and affordable way forward for an industry that’s struggled to figure out how to remain relevant in the digital age.
Enter Robyn’s Body Talk Pt. 1, the first in a proposed series of mini-albums intended to be consumed in three, easy-to-swallow portions. For an artist who’s famous for her icy hotness, that leaves little room for actual warmth—of both the sonic and emotional varieties. The bulk of the album is comprised of stiff beats and in-your-face bluster that attempt to portray Robyn as more impenetrable machine than flesh-and-blood sweetheart: she makes like a petulant prima donna amid software sirens, computer bleeps, and a menacing “Thriller” synth-grind on the opening track “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do”; she’s a “digitally chic titanium mama” with “a lotta automatic booty applications” on the glitchy “Fembot”; and she laments everyone’s failure to rise to her lofty standards on “None of Dem,” a tech-epic collaboration with Röyksopp.
It doesn’t take long, however, to get to Body’s gooey center. What made Robyn such a perfect pop specimen was that its stark electronics and lyrical bravado were humanized with quieter, more organic and lovelorn moments, and Robyn achieves a similar balance here. A kind of sequel—or prequel, depending on how you look at it—to “With Every Heartbeat,” “Dancing on My Own” similarly breaks your heart: “I’m givin’ it my all, but I’m not the girl you’re takin’ home,” Robyn sings during the hook, which one-ups its predecessor’s by at least a heart flutter or two. (If you hear a headier climax this year than the machine gun-style snare fill at the beginning of that last chorus, please let me know.) That’s followed by “Cry When You Get Older,” the first verse of which is worthy of ’80s-era Prince (“Hold up a second, now I got something on my dirty mind…I need some kind of miracle, ’cause I lost all my faith in science”) and which sums love up with pithy pragmatism (“Love hurts when you do it right”). And the solemn Scandinavian hymn that closes the album, “Jag Vet en Dejlig Rosa,” is about as affecting as they come—even if you have no idea what she’s actually saying.
The concept behind Body Talk is a double-edged sword: Like Gaga’s The Fame Monster, the eight-track Pt. 1 feels abbreviated, like a sampler for a larger project Robyn was too impatient to complete before sharing it with the world (the upcoming installments are reportedly still being recorded). But it also comes fully loaded with more hooks than your average pop album’s entire tracklist. Who needs 18 tracks? The shorter format leaves you wanting more, which is the desired effect of the first plate in any three-course meal.