The road to U.S. recognition for international electro-poppers is riddled with undeserved failures. Take Miranda!, the Argentine quartet whose sound most closely resembles Zoloft on ecstasy on a dancefloor — or see Belgian powerhouse Stromae, whose single “Alors on danse” is currently ripping up the charts in continental Europe. These artists make perfectly danceable, loveable music, but there’s something about them that’s totally inaccessible to mainstream U.S. audiences.


Body Talk, Pt. 2
Konichiwa Records

You can try to blame it on linguistics: The aforementioned artists generally stick to Spanish and French, respectively.

But Swedish songstress Robyn almost fell prey to the same trend, despite the fact that almost all her work is in English. The peppy blond seemed doomed to never see her star rise beyond Scandinavia — that is, until she let her body talk.

Body Talk, Pt. 2 is the second of three quite physically communicative albums slated for 2010. While not powered by the same emotional rocket as its predecessor, the record proves that Robyn has a certain something that lets her blast off to the stars while her contemporaries stay grounded.

While opener “In My Eyes” has an unremarkable first 30 seconds, complete with a brash drum-machine beat and a good ol’ retro synth background, as soon as Robyn’s pure and precise voice enters she overcomes and dominates (with just the teeny-weeniest hint of an accent). She sings in a throat-voiced and downright human manner, the kind of style an artist has to master in order to make lines like “Hey little star, don’t be afraid / We all fall apart and make mistakes” sound genuine and not patronizing; and once Robyn has hit her peak, she can’t be turned off.

Rarely holding on too long to the last note of a line and brightly shattering high notes before immediately and unpretentiously dropping to a lower range, Robyn never seems to be trying too hard. This is most apparent on standout “Hang With Me” — already released in acoustic form on Pt. 1. Electrified in music and mood, the new up-tempo version effortlessly swoops in with a giddy energy. What was once a plea to not “fall recklessly, heedlessly in love with me” on Pt. 1 is suddenly an off-the-cuff flirty taunt.

Here, as on much of the album, listeners will find a different Robyn from the woman who lamented on Pt. 1 that fembots have feelings too. Clearly done dancing on her own, Robyn is harsher and less vulnerable on Pt. 2. At one point she warns that “Love Kills,” and when she murmurs on the following track, “We dance to the beat of false math and unrecognized genius” through distortion and lots of echo, she might be talking about her own early career — but in a very mechanized and unromantic way.

This guarded aesthetic on Pt. 2 thwarts the careful blend of emotion and clubability that characterized its predecessor. It’s just as danceable but not as deep, and that’s a loss.

But the change also allows for hard-hitting twin highlights “Criminal Intent” — a slick and sexy speech over blips, bloops and siren wails — and the irrepressible travel monologue “U Should Know Better.” In the latter, Robyn’s fast-paced calling-out of nationalities that should know better than to fuck with her is nearly ruined by Snoop Dogg’s most timely observation that there’s a black president in our White House (thanks for the update, Snoop).

But sloppy guest spots aside, these tracks have confidence busting out their ears, and the general in-your-face-ness of Body Talk, Pt. 2 will force repeated listens. Obviously, any rising international superstar has to keep the teary-eyed whining out of the club. So maybe Robyn’s gritty new shell is a good sign — here’s hoping she’ll be the little international pop star that could.

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