Robyns honey is sweet, powerful yet minimalistic and so emotional

They say that honey doesn’t spoil. It’s known for its antimicrobial properties, and for its ability to heal. In Hinduism, honey is one of the five elixirs of immortality, and some ancient cultures even used it to embalm the dead. Which makes it a fitting title for Robyn’s first album  in eight years, as Honey chronologically maps the Swedish pop singer’s recovery from experiencing both tragedy and heartbreak during this time.

Eight years is a long time in pop music. At least two generations of would-be stars have come and gone since 2010, when Robyn released Bodytalk, her last studio album. Yet between low-key collaborations and remixes, the Swedish pop artist has somehow become even more influential, inspiring a slew of poptimist-friendly singers and producers as interested in moving butts and hearts as they are units. Which makes Honey something of a comeback album and a victory lap rolled into one.


Advanced singles “Missing U” and “Honey” nodded to past sonic conquests, albeit with some rounded edges, but they’re more outliers on this nine-track album. Robyn experienced the loss of friend and collaborator Christian Falk, as well as a romantic breakup, during Honey‘s creation and the record’s running order follows her subsequent emotional journey, with songs appearing in the order in which they were written.

The isolation in which much of it was crafted shows in the minimalist production, shaped with the help of Metronomy’s Joseph Mount, who’s credited on seven of the record’s tracks (Kindness’s Adam Bainbridge, Mr. Tophat and Klas Åhlund also contribute). His fingerprints are no more apparent than on standout “Ever Again,” the record’s rejuvenating closer.

Fans looking for the immediacy of Bodytalk, which balanced emotional upheaval with upbeat dance-floor grooves, will be somewhat disappointed — Honey is a more muted, and at times sombre affair. In many ways, it most closely resembles Robyn’s 2007 self-titled record, her true comeback after her late ’90s turn as a teen star in the Britney or Xtina mold.

While detailing her feelings heart firmly on sleeve, Robyn’s vocals feel less urgent and more guarded than in the past. Even the coy “Honey” lacks the winking come-ons of something like “Call Your Girlfriend,” and the throbbing bass line that drives the is track less obvious than in the past. Admittedly, I was somewhat underwhelmed upon first listen. Chalk it up to dashed expectations wishing for another Bodytalk sugar rush.

Repeated listens reveal a deeply nuanced record that deals with grief and confusion the only way Robyn knows how — by dancing like nobody’s looking. As always, the club remains an inspiration, but here the focus is to soundtrack the night’s comedown, not its ecstatic peak. The grooves are a bit deeper, the emotions remain true and, as the title suggests, the tracks are sticky as hell, stuck rattling around in your head for days.
 

Out now on: Konichiwa/Universal

 

 

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