“You’re not gonna get what you need, but baby I have what you want,” Robyn sings on the title track to her first album in 8 years, Honey.
If that’s true, then the Swedish pop goddess believes that her fans want a break from the euphoric, club-friendly heartbreak that made Body Talk one of the best pop albums of the century. It’s a risky gamble, but if any artist can pull off such a hat trick, it’s her. Robyn hinted at the departure with the lead single “Missing U”, an elegant slice of electropop that pulses but never explodes in the way you expect a Robyn record should. In the broader context of a full body of work, “Missing U” is a transition, from the high-octane comforts of the dance floor to the hazy atmosphere of the roped-off VIP section.
The 40-minute, 9-song set pares back the beats per minute for a decidedly more mellow affair, with sensuous slow grooves replacing the club thumps of records past. A disco queen at heart, Robyn draws the genre’s rhythmic underpinnings to the surface for a soundscape that suggests neo-soul by way of Stockholm. The range of influences present on Honey are varied and intriguing: Maxwell, Off the Wall Michael Jackson, Robin S. all pop up. Robyn probably isn’t the forbearer of R&B’s inevitable mainstream comeback, but her acknowledgement of its versatility is appreciated. The genre’s framework allows for interesting, compelling textures: “Missing U” and “Because It’s in the Music’s” electronic shimmer, “Between the Lines” and “Beach2k20’s” pulsing 90’s house, the title track’s sensuous breeze. None of the songs are going to break sweats, but the propulsive energy and warmth they have envelops, relaxes, comforts and seduces, sometimes all at once. Even at lower tempos, Robyn’s ability to derive humanity from the most synthetic production is unmatched.
The album’s leisurely approach serves Robyn’s pen well, casting her stories of intimacy and interaction in a new immersive environment. Her best tracks – “Dancing on My Own”, “With Every Heartbeat”, “Call Your Girlfriend” – offer outward release, catharsis through stunning electro spaces. Honey absorbs and circulates Robyn’s vibrant passions internally. On “Baby Forgive Me”, “Human Being” and “Honey”, she draw her romantic subjects in, beckoning their respective forgiveness and attraction with a siren’s expectancy. That doesn’t mean, however, that she is putting the onus wholly on herself to keep the flame alive. She understands this time around that love is better as a two-way street. “Human Being” and “Send to Robin Immediately” assert her right for the open communication she deserves, while the California highway closer “Ever Again” is resolute in her optimism against a lover’s doubts. Robyn communicates this confidence with her evocative, underrated vocals, colored with new shades of easy sensuality and vulnerability. Honey’s lean track list ensures that the atmosphere isn’t broken by bloat or filler (Robyn has done well avoiding both, although “Beach2k20” teeters dangerously close to the designation).
It’s no surprise that Robyn exists far above and ahead of the rest of pop, even after an eight-year hiatus where the industry has experienced a tectonic shift. What does surprise is her willingness to completely reinvent her sound at the risk of confounding her fans and critics. There are some who will be disappointed by Robyn’s departure from straightforward dance-pop on this album, but the path she’s charted offers exciting opportunities for her and the music that will inevitably, unconsciously follow her example. Robyn may have slowed her sound down, but rest assured that the rest of pop will continue to lag behind.
Stream These: Missing U, Human Being, Honey, Between the Lines, Ever Again
Skip These: Beach2k20
You can stream Honey on Spotify below: