You don’t need me to tell you that the geopolitical transnational region of Scandinavia is something of a hotbed for eccentric female talent, but who would have expected Swedish ‘90s two-hit wonder Robyn to make one of the sassiest modern pop albums of recent times?
While Britney and Christina were rising and falling, marrying slobs and getting pregnant, Robyn was still a pretty successful pop star at home. This, her eponymous comeback, is actually album number five, and is being tipped to make her an international star (again). Like Gwen Stefani, she has rebranded herself as the ultimate postmodern woman — feisty, complex, couture, insecure, self-aware. The similarities don’t end there either. Recalling Stefani’s obsession with the Japanese Harajuku Girls, Robyn is similarly playful and outrageous on the pimpalicious, self-referential ‘Konichiwa Bitches’, which has been setting tongues wagging all over the place. She has even set up her own label, Konichiwa Records, in order to release this irrepressibly modern collection.
In the tradition of the most durable and iconic female pop personalities, Robyn enjoys playing with the listener’s perceptions. As such, while opening track ‘Curriculum Vitae’ is a two-minute ironic spoken-word intro hyping her as “the Queen of Queen Bees / two-time winner of the Nobel Prize for the super foxiest female evah!”, by the second song, the hard-nosed, sexy ‘Who’s That Girl?’, we find her proclaiming “the girls are sexy, like, every day, I’m only sexy when I say it’s ok,” exposing her insecurities beneath her sneering ice queen façade.
There’s real magic in her collaborations with Swedish electro duo, The Knife, who received broadsheet acclaim for their electroclash-meets-calypso sound on last year’s Deep Cuts. Their icy, heavy synth lines and pounding staccato drum machine rhythms give the songs a real edge, adding to the feisty sexiness that Robyn’s vocal delivery conjures. They work with Robyn on over half of the album, with the remainder consisting of more conventional strumming pop/ rock. However, due to the complex persona built up throughout the album, what may have seemed drippy were it anyone else, here comes across as touching and heartfelt. That said, the ballads do disappoint to an extent. They aren’t bad as such, but in context seem less vital when the Knife-produced tracks are so strong and cutting edge. Tarnishing the carefully crafted concept of the album, they detract from the bold, eccentric statements made elsewhere.
While terrific, shamelessly pop albums like this and Stefani’s Love Angel Music Baby steer impressively clear of the (4 x single) + (12 x filler) = album formula that prevents most pop records from actually being amazing, they would benefit further from an even stricter degree of quality control. Fortunately, there’s enough humour, sassiness and originality to Robyn to make it one of the most memorable pop albums in recent years and an unexpected delight.
[Konichiwa; May 24, 2005]