Monday, June 30, 2008

Robyn Loau's Malaria - The Review

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the impending release of Robyn Loau's debut album - more than a decade after it was recorded! Well, the time has finally come. "Malaria - The Lost Album" hits iTunes tomorrow with a physical release to follow on the 14th of July. The album will also be released on a USB wristband, making Robyn one of the first Australian artists to take advantage of this exciting new technology (see pic below). Now that the decade long dramas surrounding the release of "Malaria" have finally been resolved, one question remains: Was it worth the wait? The answer is a resounding YES!
As much as I love "Malaria", I found it very difficult to review. It's hard enough to judge an album that was recorded 10 years ago but it's almost impossible to be objective about something you have anticipated listening to for more than a decade. I didn't want my unrealistic expectations to affect my enjoyment of the album, so I prepared myself to be letdown. I wasn't. "Malaria" is a stunning accomplishment from beginning to end. The writing is dynamic, Robyn's vocals are exquisite and the production is superb. Perhaps the biggest achievement, however, is how little "Malaria" has dated. The album holds up brilliantly against anything recorded in 2008. The songs sound as fresh today as they did in 1998, which is obviously a huge indication of their quality. Here are some my thoughts on the tracks:

1. Song 4 U

This sets the tone of the album perfectly with its intriguing blend of genres and beautifully detailed production. "Song 4 U" is a perfect chill out anthem, walking the line between trip-hop and jazz. Think Portishead on Valium! I love the little flourishes, like the quirky squeaking gate sound effects and Robyn's growls. A beautiful and disarming opening track.

2. Got That Kinda Feelin' (Float On) Directors Cut

"Got That Kinda Feelin' (Float On)" was the 3rd single from "Malaria" way back in 1998. I've always adored this song and could never understand why it was so shamefully overlooked on release. Everything about this anthem screams class, from the breathy layers of vocals to the clever sampling of The Floaters' 70s classic "Float On". If anything, "Got That Kinda Feelin' (Float On)" was probably too delicate and subtle for mainstream success. Make sure you check out the stylish video clip (below). This is probably my all time favourite Robyn track.

3. Sick With Love

Time hasn't robbed Robyn's solo debut and biggest hit of its edge. "Sick With Love" is still as raw, confronting and insanely catchy as it was the first time I heard it in 1997. This song brings back so many memories of my teenage years. As a huge Girlfriend fan, I still remember being shocked by Robyn's new sound and even slightly scared of the video clip! I'm no longer frightened of Gothic Robyn, just in awe of her talent. An Australian classic.

4. Love Addiction

The second single from "Malaria" was another stunning slice of homegrown pop. The opening strings give way to a beautifully understated hip hop beat, evoking memories of the fabulous Neneh Cherry. I honestly don't think Australia was ready for this in the 90s. Robyn was at least 10 years ahead of her time. The CD single includes a remix featuring EMF's James Aitken, which generated some buzz for Robyn in the UK at the time. I vastly prefer this version. Check out the funky video clip (below).

5. Cry

"Cry" was going to be the 4th single from the album but was never released despite a video clip being filmed. It's a crying shame - pardon the pun - because this stunning ballad could have been a huge hit. The orchestration is exquisite and Robyn's voice gives me shivers. Robyn should perform this song live more often, I had forgotten how utterly beautiful it is. The long sought after clip will finally be available on the "Malaria" USB.

6. Turn Away

After several mid-tempo tunes, Robyn channels her inner rock chick on "Turn Away". The lyrics are cute ("you spin me out with ya attitude!") and I love it when Robyn shows her wild side. The almost tribal breakdown towards the end is also an interesting touch. Very original and mysterious. Again, this could have been recorded in 2008.

7. People

One of the strangest tracks on the album with unusual percussion and vocal layering, "People" is also one of the few songs that I don't really love. The lyrics are obviously personal and I appreciate the message about gaining control of your life but this is a bit of mess to my ears. Robyn's voice gets lost in the madness and there's not much in the way of a chorus. An interesting experiment.

8. Suburbia

If I'm not mistaken, "Suburbia" was written for or inspired by Robyn's feature film debut as a Bottle-O bitch in "Idiot Box". The lyrics about disaffected youth clearly reflect the film's content and Robyn's character. I really like this song. It's very catchy and walks the fine line between having a message and preaching with fine skill. Robyn would return to this theme with the amazing Columbine shooting inspired dance anthem "Hard" almost ten years later.

9. Onion

Any song that begins with heavy breathing is usually OK with me. "Onion" is a laid back affair with crisp beats and some truly beautiful guitar work. I love the chorus - "you got me cryin' like an onion" says it all really. This wouldn't sound out of place next to recent recordings from Duffy or Adele (if either of those tarts possessed Robyn's vocal ability), the retro sound on display here isn't worlds apart. Quality.

10. Ziggy

"I already know, baby your IQ is low" has to be one of the best opening lines in musical history! This upbeat number begins with some random chanting and drum rolls before breaking into a perky little pop tune. It doesn't make a lot of sense but it sure is fun.

11. Just When I Needed You Most

"Malaria" closes with another inspired chill out anthem. "Just When I Needed You Most" is clearly inspired by the Bristol based trip-hop sound of the 90s (think Lamb and Portishead) without sounding derivative. It's intriguing to hear a local act dabble in such a specific sound with the confidence to bring their own ideas to the table. A fitting end to a great album.

Also includes:

12. Got That Kinda Feelin' (Float On) US Mix

13. Sick With Love (Josh G Abrahams Remix)

14. Love Addiction (Jungle Mix)[Featuring EMF's James Aitken]

I'm delighted that "Malaria" has finally seen the light of day but also quite sad that such a great album has been gathering dust for the past decade. No wonder the local industry is falling apart at the seems when something this extraordinary is binned in a record company merger. Fans of homegrown pop need "Malaria" in their collection.


D'luv said...

I fucked her once. Truth be told, it was like shoving a stick of dynamite in a pita pocket filled with mayonaise.

Still, marv head.

Anonymous said...

I'm checking itunes but cant see Malaria anywhere. Was it definitely released today?

Mike said...

Um D'Luv, I think you got Robyn mixed up with Tila Tequila or some other cheap hooker.

Anon - Yeah it was a day late. "Malaria" is now availabale on Aus iTunes. I just checked!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for keep us up to date on Robyn's whereabouts / career. I actually have the original promo cd for 'Malaria' just before it was pulled from release. I love the album and am so glad that it's officially being released. Your review is really spot on. The cd has so many fantastic tracks that have dated well.

Looking forward to the physical release with artwork and hopefully remixes.

Many thanks,
Jason, Adelaide. x

Matt said...

Its there! Just downloaded it. 'Cry' and 'Float On' are soooo beautiful!!!!

Xavier said...

I never thought I'd say this about a ten year old album but this was totally worth the wait. I'm just loving Turn Away and Suburbia!! Love Addiction brings back memories of a forbidden high school crush and Sick With Love is just a killer, killer track. I just wonder where she'd be now if this had been released when it was meant to. I remember Smash Hits and Cleo at the time said she could be our next Kylie or Janet Jackson (which at the time was a huge compliment).