Monday 29 October 2018

Robyn - Honey

Robyn - Honey

The warning signs were there in the first strain of the title track:

No, you're not gonna get what you need
But baby, I have what you want
Come get your honey

This might not be the Robyn album that many of her fans wanted. But it's the Robyn album that she needed to make. It's been eight years since the release of 'Body Talk' - years spent grieving for friends and relationships - and those years are all here, in the music.

What this isn't, as many anticipated, is 'Body Talk Pt. 3', though opener Missing You does give that impression. Initially, it seems, not much has changed - Robyn is still delivering sad pop bangers, pairing melancholic lyrics with crystalline dance production. Yet it's more subtle than the song's predecessors - the way the synth pads never resolve, the way it drifts unstructured into thought, the hushed vocal delivery until that final "I miss you". That subtlety and craft foreshadows what's to come.

Musically at least, 'Honey' is less crying in the club and more contemplating at the after party. It's altogether more introspective than her previous work, stretching her bittersweet style to the logical extremes: heavier on the dance influences, yet equally more intimate. It's experimental and less rigidly structured, turning hypnotic dance beats into pensive thought rather than euphoric escapism.

The songs are presented in the order they were written. The result is an album that takes us on a journey, beginning with heartbreak and moving through grief. In this context Missing You makes sense - it's not just a song about longing for a lover or a friend, it's a nod to the past Robyn before moving into newer territory. "I'm a human being," she almost pleads on Human Being over sparse robotic beats and glitching rhythms, as if breaking out of her past self.

Because It's In The Music is Robyn at her most sweet yet melancholic, her lyrics of reminiscence ("I'm right back in that moment and it makes me want to cry") layered over production that glitters and shimmers like the stardust she sings of. It's followed by Baby Forgive Me, with similar disco under-pinning and a warped vocal counter-melody that almost mocks her pleading, the harmony shifting in the second chorus as her pleas become more desperate ("Just let me make you smile again, baby"). It bleeds into Send To Robin Immediately like a stream of consciousness - an introspective, largely instrumental track that sees Robyn (and us along with her) lost in thought.

By the time we get to the title track, its sensuality feels familiar like a warm bath. It's here that Robyn begins to find herself again after her experiences of loss, find herself in the playfulness of music. From there it's a rising swell of positivity - through 90s house - towards closing track Ever Again. Here the album ends on a moment of pure euphoria, the production blown widescreen (under the production helm of Metronomy's Joseph Mount) as we're simultaneously grounded in the club and soaring to the stars. "Never gonna be brokenhearted ever again," she sings with unbridled freedom and joy.

'Honey', then, is an album of crisis and self-discovery, of loss and comfort and a brighter future, as downbeat as it is upbeat. It is frequently beautiful, daring and bold - both in its experimental construction and its subverting of our expectations. It is also meticulously crafted, with too many tiny details and moments to list individually.

But it's not without its flaws. Beyond the initial disappointment at the lack of consistent pop bangers - or perhaps because of that lack - the dance influences cause some tracks to feel too drawn out. Between The Lines and Beach2k20 in particular border on 90s pastiche, the hypnotic beats drifting into monotony. And while there's depth to the production and the songwriting (often what's unsaid allows us space to ponder), the album probably won't be played on repeat for years to come, but instead saved for certain moments of reflection.

In that sense, 'Honey' was perhaps more cathartic for Robyn to write than enjoyable for us to listen to - the album she needed, but not that we necessarily wanted. This is her 'Honey'. Whether it's yours is up to you.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Missing You
* Honey
* Ever Again

Listen: 'Honey' is out now.