A guest blog written by Patrick D’Arcy. You can agree/disagree with him here.
Song: ‘Time Machine’
US chart peak: Wasn’t released as a single
Release date: 22 November 2010 (as part of ‘Body Talk Pt 3’, and the collected ‘Body Talk’)
Writers: Robyn, Max Martin, Shellback, Somajo, K. Åhlund
Producers: Max Martin, Shellback
Quintessential Max moment: The “Delorean” bit in the chorus
Video synopsis: No video, but who among us hasn’t dreamed up an expensive treatment involving an elaborate Back to the Future 2-inspired set piece?
It is remarkable how closely associated Max Martin and Robyn remain in the popular imagination, given that they’ve only properly collaborated on three songs: Robyn’s break-out singles ‘Show Me Love’ and ‘Do You Know (What It Takes)’ from her 1995 debut, and ‘Time Machine’ from 2010’s ‘Body Talk Pt 3’.
This makes ‘Time Machine’ a reunion fifteen years in the making. While Robyn notoriously distanced herself from Martin after their initial hits in an effort to “stand on her own two feet,” they apparently remained friends and were in fact eager to collaborate again – it was simply a matter of finding the right song. With ‘Time Machine,’ Robyn said, “it just clicked.”
“The success we had together in the mid-’90s was not only my first success but one of Martin’s first bigger hits in America,” Robyn told the Miami New Times of all places. “I love the fact that I’m getting to work with one of the biggest producers in the world. Also, it’s maybe showing people I’m not afraid of my past.”
It’s hard to miss the symbolism here: Robyn and Martin coming together to confront a pivotal moment in their pop past with a song about a literal time machine.
‘Time Machine’ is not the first, or second, or third, or even fourth most memorable song from the ‘Body Talk’ project. (‘Indestructible’ edges out ‘Time Machine’ for the honour of fourth, owing to its amazing “This! Is! Hard! Core!” bit.) With throbbing synths and a sinister robotic echo (a motif throughout all of ‘Body Talk’), ‘Time Machine’ falls just short of a total earworm bonanza – but still qualifies as a veritably above average pop song.
Let’s start with the basics: Robyn’s had an awful row with a lover (probably something to do with whose turn it was to take the rubbish out, if we’re being honest) and said some things that she wishes she could take back: “Hey, what did I do? / Can’t believe the fit I just threw / Stupid.” Hence the extended metaphor involving time travel. The song finds Robyn in her iconic posture of exalted self-deprecation, which few artists do quite as well. In fact, part of the genius of ‘Body Talk’ is the way it oscillates between extreme exaltation and self-deprecation, often in the same song or even verse, or simply compresses them altogether. (See: “I keep dancing on my own!”).
A note on the recurring “hey!” bit: amazing.
After a relatively low key, tension-building pre-chorus that packs on the time travel metaphors (“rewind the tape,” “redraw the line,” etc) the chorus bursts to life. The sweeping two-part chorus features elongated, almost operatic syllables that wind up the scale (“So all I need / is a time machine / a one way track”) broken up by the syncopated “cause I’m takin it back, takin it back,” which falls back down the scale and literally rewinds the chorus. Part two of the chorus climbs back up the scale (“All I want / is a Delorean”) before catching us off guard by bringing back the syncopation early: “If I could go just like that / I’ll be taking it back, taking it back.” Typical of a Martin chorus, it’s more complicated than it sounds.
A note on the “Delorean” bit: it’s such a wonderful piece of metonymic lyricism, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if the entire song had been reverse engineered around it. Congratulations all.
The song’s middle eight: a generically futuristic instrumental interlude that evokes the grueling construction job and head-scratching quantum mechanics Robyn has undertaken in her garage in order to procure a functional time machine, which she will presumably use to go back and just take out the damn rubbish. All around underwhelming by Max Martin standards, though I suppose all middle eights can’t be a miracle of ‘Break Free’ proportions.
That brings us to the final chorus: after some impressive vocal ad libs, the music breaks and Robyn, acappella, coyly sings, “Oh yeah” and then laughs. While the industry trope of The Artist Laughing In The Studio deserves more space than this post allows, I do believe we have a quintessential Max Martin Easter egg right here. Anyone with rudimentary knowledge of Robyn’s oeuvre will be reminded of the “Yeah, yeah, yeah” that opens ‘Show Me Love’ and launched her career back in 1995. It’s no coincidence, then, that this allusion comes after declaring she’s “takin it back, takin it back, ” concluding her long-awaited reunion with Martin.
Not afraid of her past indeed.
If you’d like to write a guest blog on a Max Martin song that didn’t make the US Top 10 then there’s information on how to do that right here.