Most of Robyn recasts the teenage hitmaker of a decade ago as a formidable 26-year-old Stockholm chick. Like Mandy Moore and other ’90s teenpop survivors, Robyn clashed with the record industry’s boneheaded notions of how her career should proceed, eventually stalking out on her own. Now she favors, in addition to tough talk voiced in her slight but unquenchable soprano, fast electro arrangements tending toward the geometric, and beats that her wonderful bio terms “pixilated.” She has hitched her creative enterprise to Swedes like Klas Åhlund of Teddybears (“Stockholm’s amazing bricolage pop group”) and the Knife, a shadowy duo who make “towering, architectural synthpop” and who produced “Who’s That Girl” for her—which is towering and architectural, but in a quickly digested way. (“Unbelievably,” the bio relates,” her [then] label hated it.”) Her appeal is questionable when she tries to sound like an American rapper, but on tracks where she just sings—the immaculate junk symphony of “Be Mine,” the excellently Japanese “Bum Like You,” the Autobahn power-ballad “With Every Heartbeat”—she gives Europop a swift Swedish energy and presence.
Will Robyn, in 10 years’ time, be a lustrous international franchise on the order of Madonna—or Kylie? These things are difficult to predict, or even accurately judge: Until I saw Kylie—on 2005’s Showgirl: The Greatest Hits Tour, when HBO aired it a while ago—take charge of her years of hits with the blazing musical ownership of Michael Stipe or Mick Jagger, I was clueless about the Australian’s top-flight grip on post-disco pop, and began to hear something like her genius 2001 single “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” as more than just brilliant production. Her current album, X, is full of songs with a similarly grand pop-rock sense of melody, best enjoyed on addictive tracks like “Sensitized” and “Stars,” which indicate just how scintillatingly a pop singer can control tunes without athletic shows of diva technique. But it’s not the production, as copiously sexy as it is, that makes this great: It’s that Kylie has an ear for fantastic pop-rock tunes restyled for 2008, and she approaches them not as merely amusing sonic glitter, but as totally vital music. Robyn and her bio writer proceed similarly. Of course, it’s only pop music—but without the passion, the point gets lost.
Robyn plays the Grand Ballroom at Hammerstein May 2