Robyn‘s new album “Honey” is out now on Konichiwa Records/Universal.
Eight years after her last solo release, Robyn returns with “Honey”, a nine-track effort that sees her making a surprising left-turn. While prior Robyn releases felt more like collections of songs (this is far from being a criticism, as “Body Talk”, which after all was originally a collection of EPs, still holds up as one of the greatest pop albums of the 21st century), “Honey” is undoubtedly an album-based project. And not only that. It’s also as experimental as Robyn has ever gone in her solo career while managing to retain the melodic charm that has defined her for the best part of the last fifteen years. It’s everything we wanted from a brand-new Robyn album – the new Robyn and the good old Robyn at the same time.
While every song here stands on its own and the album’s sonic palette is varied enough for it not to ever feel samey, the nine tracks that conform “Honey” benefit from being part of a consistent whole. This is particularly true of the album’s middle section, with “Baby Forgive Me” and “Send To Robin Immediately” basically coming off as extended interludes.
There is a pervasive sadness to this album which shouldn’t be too unfamiliar to those well acquainted with Robyn’s work. After all, songs like “Dancing On My Own” or “Call Your Girlfriend” are still defined by their melancholy ambivalence – high-tempo and upbeat in their instrumentation, they are nonetheless wistful in their lyrical content. Robyn is a master at making songs to which you can dance and cry at the same time, and “Honey” sees her successfully defending her throne. Lead single “Missing U” is a classic Robyn track in the spirit of the aforementioned songs – just like “Dancing On My Own”, it´s somehow in the verge of reaching the five-minute mark before you can even notice. It’s not that it builds up slowly – quite the contrary, actually. “Missing U” is consistently rapturous, an endless chain of hooks so effective that it wouldn’t even matter if they were exclusively supported by Robyn’s trademark kick drum.
While the music is still as catchy as it ever was, there is an argument for “Honey” being the Robyn album that places a greater deal of emphasis on lyrics. And not necessarily because they are great lyrics on their own (as most pop lyrics, they sure don’t look great when read on paper) but because they are articulated in such a memorable way that they would work as hooks even without the music playing underneath. Take “Human Being”, Robyn’s collaboration with Zhala Rifat, which is not particularly catchy from a melodic standpoint. Its hook, which consists of Robyn simply singing “I’m a human being”, relies completely on the power of her enunciation to be effective. And it sure is. By the very first time you hear the line, you´ll find yourself singing along to it, trying to wonder how a piece of melody so apparently ordinary can be stuck in your head in no time at all. That still remains as the best thing about Robyn’s music: it´s hard to tell how she works her magic, but it’s extremely easy to fall under her spell.
The quasi-instrumental “Beach2k20” works in similar ways, Robyn’s spoken-word part standing out as immediately memorable even in its apparent non-eventfulness: “I mean, it’s right on the beach / Come through, it’ll be cool.” There is a certain Balearic feel to the track, which began as a collaboration with Mr. Tophat in Ibiza. However, that would have been too easy for Robyn, so she also made sure to include a nod to Detroit techno influence in the keyboard riff that plays underneath the whole song. But then again, that would have also been too easy, so she had the riff played in a contrived and awkward manner – it´s a ghost riff, as if were. Whatever the track seemed to be originally going for, it’s never fully realized as the song remains in no man’s land, feeling like a surreal dream that is impossible to escape. A simply fascinating piece of music, “Beach2k20” provides strong evidence to Robyn’s experimental twist in “Honey” being an indisputable success. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Robyn has been looking at the work of pop pioneers like Brian Eno, Kate Bush or David Bowie as inspiration for “Honey”, an album that pushes the boundaries of pop music while maintaining its immediacy.
However, the best moments in “Honey” come with Robyn as a bona fide dance pop artist. Led by its bouncy bassline and beautifully arranged with strings that replicate the chorus melody, “Because It’s In The Music” should worm its way into anyone’s brain by the time Robyn has finished singing the first two lines: “They wrote a song about us / It’s called something like stardust.” “Because It’s In The Music” is relatively intricate for the genre’s standards, but that’s not to say that the Swedish popstar hasn’t got time for making straight-up bangers anymore. Wisely chosen as the album’s second single, the house-tinged title track should have become a dancefloor hit by now, its modulated backing vocals being particularly anthemic. And she hasn’t unleashed the Girls version yet.
With “Honey”, Robyn has managed to accomplish something that few artists do in their lifetimes, let alone before they’re even 40 years old. She has gone through reformation without losing her essence and succeeded in expanding her range as a musician. The experimentation in “Honey” is genuine and convincing, and it never comes off as the sound of an artist taking a fleeting interest in today´s trends. “Honey” is not as much a reinvention as it is an expansion – and an incredibly successful one at that. The wait has been worth it, but god knows the world won´t be able to go on until 2026 without a new Robyn album.