Swedish superstar Robyn is undoubtedly one of the greatest pop musicians of the 21st century, so the announcement of a new album — the first in almost a decade — was met with great anticipation. With the release of lead single “Missing U”, it seemed as though Robyn was set to deliver another shimmering dance-pop record comprised of whirling synthesisers and anthemic hooks.
However, Honey is ultimately the most low-key record in Robyn’s discography so far. It’s more nuanced than previous releases, and, outside of a couple of dance bangers, far less immediate. The synths and sparks are subtle, and the songs demand multiple listens. It’s clear that after having released a handful of dazzling, larger-than-life records, Robyn has turned her focus towards more mellow work. Given the subdued nature of the instrumentals, her lyrics of pain and heartache are more affective here than ever before. No one does melancholic pop like Robyn.
Unlike the other standout pop album of the year — Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer — Robyn’s latest record doesn’t go down the route of cultural commentary and political critique. This is back-to-basics dance music, and it’s quite refreshing in that respect. There’s great comfort to be found in its reserved nature. The slow, smooth stride of “Baby Forgive Me” isn’t terribly exciting in a traditional pop sense, but it certainly is compelling for more patient listeners. Most of songs resolve gently, all the while retaining a sense of genuine pain.
It’s easy take this level of pop for granted: Honey sounds almost effortless, and the level of consistency it achieves is a rarity in the genre. The backend goes a little off-piste (“Beach2k20″ is a notable diversion) but it remains enjoyable throughout. This is, once again, another major success for Robyn. Honey may lack a stunning pop song like “With Every Heartbeat”, but it remains an alluring package regardless. If it’s deep and sensual left-field pop music you want, you’ve come to the right place.
8 out of 10
Oftentimes what makes pop music powerful is its ability to be larger than life, to take on the splendour of an emergent butterfly. It’s novel, then, to hear an artist like Robyn opt for snugness and comfort. Honey has plenty of pop hallmarks, yet it shakes off enough of the genre’s conventions to feel new, and even a bit enigmatic. Honey is far from a broody album, but by pop standards it isn’t far off.
Honey is Robyn’s first album for eight years, and a cautious, playful sense of rediscovery sits under everything that goes on. Robyn described the the writing process as ‘me just being able to enjoy myself again,’ and that certainly comes through. From the lush, low-key title track to the gentle pleading of “Baby Forgive Me”, Honey delights in a downtempo sensuality. It finds voice in *not *being larger than life, delving instead into the deeply personal. The record itself is honey-like in a lot of way — fluid, sweet, a kind of speciality.
Robyn said she ‘wouldn’t describe [Honey] as therapy; more like comfort.’ I think so too. Honey is a very comfortable record, and with that coziness comes some safeness. And that’s all right. Where a similar project by another artist could easily have sounded pedestrian — Lady Gaga’s Joanne, for example — Honey comes off thoughtful and assured. The luxurious sheen just cuts short any talk of triumph, at least from me.
7 out of 10
In the hands of another pop artist, Honey could have come and gone without much fanfare. Without the bombast of other entries in Robyn’s discography, this latest release is no doubt an easy listen. Swamped in hugging, warm pads throughout, its tracklist transitions between downtempo, sub-filled tracks like “Human Being” to the funky, twinkling splashes of “Because It’s in the Music”.
It’s the small flourishes dotted around the album that keep Honey engaging. “Baby Forgive Me” is silky smooth to the point that it could slide right over you, but that detuned, tin-can vocal floating around the track adds a quirk that piques interest. “Beach2k20” is a serene saunter, mixing earthy dub and lounge music, it reminds me of Gotan Project in an elevator, but it’s proven itself to be a dark horse as my favourite track from the album. In fact, it’s hard to find much to dislike anywhere. Nothing outstays its welcome, with the full tracklist clocking in at forty minutes, and each track establishes a character of its own. On the other hand, there’s nothing unexpected here either, and it’s clear Robyn has stuck to the comfort of what she knows, rather than trying anything more experimental.
It’s another solid album in a year of surprising standouts in pop. What’s more, after an eight-year stint away from the studio, it’s a welcome return from one of the more notable pop artists of the last few decades and one can only hope Robyn continues putting out genuinely interesting, engaging pop music.
8 out of 10