DON’T F***ING TELL ME WHAT TO DO…
The month of June saw the release of albums from two established pop starlets that both promised new futuristic directions aided by key players in modern electro. However in the case of one, the end result couldn’t have become more diluted in concept.
In 2008, there was much talk of CHRISTINA AGUILERA going electro and her GOLDFRAPP inspired interim single ‘Keeps Getting Better’ certainly hinted as such. Then there was the announcement that GOLDFRAPP and LADYTRON would be collaborating on her new album ‘Light & Darkness’ as it was then titled.
LADYTRON’s Daniel Hunt said to the BBC at the time: “We first heard that we were one of Christina’s favourite bands last summer. We were thrilled. So we went over to Los Angeles to meet her in December where she identified the type of LADYTRON’s songs that she liked. We were impressed because she had a real deep knowledge of our music – album tracks, not just the singles”.
Reuben Wu added: “We’ve got a few songs for her. Right now we’re still in the studio. One song is a cover of LADYHAWKE’s ‘My Delirium’. It’s all very interesting work, and new ground for all of us involved. My feeling is that she got to a point in her life where she wanted to take her music to a different level. She was willing to take a risk and go in a completely different direction. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I want to be all electro.’ It wasn’t anything like that. She just wanted to evolve her music according to what she was listening to at the time”.
Fast forward to 2010, the delayed album was retitled ‘Bionic’ and although the lead single ‘Not Myself Tonight’ was a superb slice of electronic R’n’B, there was no sign of ‘My Delirium’ or the track that GOLDFRAPP had submitted. Indeed, the two remaining LADYTRON tracks ‘Birds Of Prey’ and ‘Little Dreamer’ were relegated to bonus track status, with the latter being iTunes only!
Both tracks are brilliant though, ‘Birds Of Prey’ softens the percussive noise that dominated ‘Velocifero’ with Ms Aguilera showing some great restraint herself in the vocal department, it is almost ambient rave. Meanwhile ‘Little Dreamer’ is a classic melodic synthpop ditty that features the fascinating song writing credit of Christina Aguilera/Cathy Dennis/Helen Marnie/Daniel Hunt/Mira Aroyo/Reuben Wu. Another of the bonus tracks is ‘Monday Morning’, an excellent sub TOM TOM CLUB funky groove written by Sam Endicott, singer of electro-rock outfit THE BRAVERY who won the BBC Sound of 2005.
Her record company BMG almost certainly did not want their prize asset turning into the female IAMX and interfered accordingly while a possible loss of nerve in the Aguilera camp has meant that these songs will not get quite the exposure they deserve. But CHRISTINA AGUILERA should be applauded for her original artistic intentions and wanting to broaden her horizons in the first place, not matter how outside commercial pressures have watered them down. However, she may want to follow the example of another blonde disco lungsmith who was once signed to BMG herself and became frustrated by their attempts to mould her into the Swedish Christina Aguilera!
Despite having gained initial success in 1997 with the R’n’B tinged ‘Show Me Love‘, ROBYN’s superiors at BMG reacted negatively in 2004 to a demo of ‘Who’s That Girl?’ which unveiled her new electropop oriented sound. Frustrated, ROBYN bought herself out of her contract and set up her own Konichiwa Records to release her self titled album ‘Robyn’. Working with such luminaries as KLEERUP and THE KNIFE, this resulted in the outstanding singles ‘With Every Heartbeat‘ and ‘Who’s That Girl?’ respectively. An international hit, the album’s success allowed her to explore the virtues of her new found independence, as showcased by working with ROYKSOPP on the brilliant ‘The Girl And The Robot’ from their third album ‘Junior‘.
With Bionic being far too long and patchy, ROBYN’s ‘Body Talk (Part 1)’ is a prescription of much smaller doses. This is the first installment in a series of mini-albums that sees the former Ms Carlsson in partnership with ROYKSOPP again on ‘None Of Dem’ (KLEERUP will be contributing to the later volumes), and developing her ambitious pursuit of a more electronic based sound with a touch of Nordic melancholy.
Fembot particularly is a bleepy mechanised joy as the synthetic rhythms clank away while lead single ‘Dancing On My Own’ and its rigid four-to-the-floor sequence is a Eurocentric delight. And the opening track ‘Don’t F**king Tell Me What To Do‘ is a somewhat fitting message to the corporate music industry! ROBYN said to Popjustice of ‘Body Talk (Part 1)‘ recently: “I think there’s lots of people who won’t like it… that it is electronic and therefore ‘not authentic’. Lots of people in America dismiss dance music as something kitsch. It’s ‘bad music’. I think there will be lots of thoughts about what this album is but I can’t really put words on it. I think people will always be suspicious because it’s pop music”.
Her fellow Scandinavian ANNIE went through a similar predicament last year when her album ‘Don’t Stop’ underwent a 12 month delay due to a frustrating period with Island/Universal Records. Even with the prestigious RICHARD X producing and co-writing high octane electronic dance numbers such as ‘Songs Remind Me Of You’, the inadequacies of some people in major labels came to the fore: “It’s just difficult, when you first work with someone and you have a vision and an idea of what you want to do, and suddenly you’re working with someone who doesn’t care about anything at all!” she said after her split with Island. But she added: “I’m an artist with lots of ideas, plans – so I’m gonna do things my own way from now on”.
One of the album’s highlights ‘I Don’t Like Your Band’ reinforced her manifesto in a reply to potential muso suitor: “Time to get your headphones on listening to some cosmic songs, some KRAFTWERK, BOBBY O and MORODER! 1. Gotta ditch your influences; then 2. Start it all again; 3. Buy yourself a sequencer; and then 4. Let the games begin!”
What this actually tells the world at the moment is that music is not just about allegedly populist forms like urban, indie and rock. Innovative electronically based artists like LADYTRON, GOLDFRAPP, THE KNIFE, ROYKSOPP, KLEERUP and RICHARD X have heavily influenced the contemporary pop scene and the classic synthpop sound is truly back and here to stay, whether some in the industry like it or not.
Text by Chi Ming Lai
29th June 2010