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Respect Reviewed

by Aidan Merritt

You've almost certainly got this and made up your minds by now, so rather than just review it I'll give some thoughts of mine about it.

Firstly, the way the UK release was handled was an absolute disgrace. The same thing happened with Perspex Island - I can't believe that Polygram's UK & US subsidiaries can't coordinate their activities better than this. The US version being released a full five months before the British release was seemingly pointless and self defeating. The fans - on whom a non-trendy artist like Robyn relies - bought the US version on import, at ridiculous prices. Then, come the UK release they've already got it - of course it's not going to chart!

Everyone else seems to love this album, but I have my reservations - and I feel that in years to come this will be lumped with Queen Elvis as one of Robyn's low points. The songs all seem tailored for the US college scene; all very radio-friendly, with catchy choruses, nothing long, nothing really new, everything overproduced. The same was true about Perspex Island, but there there was at least a far greater variety in the tracks. Losing your hate (see Hitchcock Gets Hitched on page 24) isn't always a good thing when it comes to creativity...

The album it most reminds me of is Julian Cope's My Nation Underground. Both sound like half-baked, hastily made albums that seem unsure whether they want to be psychedelia, introspective whine or US radio-fodder rock, and fall somewhere in between, and do their best to conceal their inadequacies with beautifully-designed sleeves. MNU is generally considered Cope's nadir; Respect, I think, will go the same way. But hell, what do I know?

While we're on the subject... The sleeve is one of the best ever. Gorgeous paintings, great photos, and lyrics. (Just how do you manage to add an entire verse to Arms Of Love in the transcription?) But to be quite honest, I could have done without the story; sometime around 1984 they stopped being deeply meaningful and started being deeply pretentious and mildly irritating.

Respect was released with a promo, Spectre (a remixed Respect ho ho ho), featuring the same ten tracks, plus a new mix of "When I Was Dead" and a totally different "Driving Aloud", plus snippets of interview discussing the meaning of each track. I'll run through my opinions of each Respect track, then go on to give my opinions of Spectre.

"The Yip Song"
I really like this one, but I'm not sure if I'll still like it in a year. (How often do you listen to "So You Think You're In Love" these days?) It's got a great bassline and a rocking tune, but look behind that and it seems very shallow. It's very radio-friendly - if A&M released it under a different title they could have a hit on their hands.
"Arms Of Love"
This is so far and away the best song on the album, nothing else even comes close - even though it won't ever be a hit. This isn't my favourite of the various releases of this about - that goes to the one on The Best Of Mountain Stage Vol. 2 - but it's such a great song it could survive the worst meddling (stand up, Mr. Stipe). It was originally "Arms Of God", and this feeling survives - a kind of majestic, uplifting solemnness. I love it.
"The Moon Inside"
It's a nice idea to do a song about pregnancy that's not in the least mawkish and sentimental, but it doesn't really gel. The lyrics are fine, but the tune's not particularly good, and too lengthy. Robyn must realise this; as far as I know it hasn't featured in any of his live performances (although no doubt someone will correct me)
"Railway Shoes"
For some reason Melody Maker loved this, and I can't understand why. To me, it sounds like a bad REM outtake, and is the worst song on the album.
"When I Was Dead"
Now this is more like it. Weird but comprehensible. Wacky but meaningful. A great tune. Brilliant.
"The Wreck Of The Arthur Lee"
I like this, but only when I'm in the right mood. Then, it's moving and touching. Otherwise, it's an irritating bit of mawkishness between "When I Was Dead" and "Driving Aloud".
"Driving Aloud"
It's a great idea, making a song where each verse is a disconnected fragment of conversation as in a boring car journey. Only three verses were kept, out of the eight recorded, and I think that's a pity; a 'concept song' like this really needs at least five or six verses to make it clear that the bits aren't meant to be connected.
"Serpent At The Gates Of Wisdom"
A good song, but not suited for him (or him for it). I'd love to hear someone like Julian Cope or Maria McKee have a go at this.
"Then You're Dust"
No, no, no. The only good thing about this is its shortness. Again for some reason Melody Maker called this 'gorgeous'.
Although it's easy to dismiss it as a joke track, if you ignore the context of the album it's a good song in its own right. It's very reminiscent to me of the Soft Boys and could easily have been on Invisible Hits or Black Snake Dîamond Röle without seeming at all out of place.

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