Before “Crying in the Club” was the title of a Camila Cabello song, it was Robyn’s entire ethos, if not registered trademark. In the eight years since the Swede released a proper solo album, no one has quite recaptured the combination of b.p.m. and pathos she perfected in the run-up to the turn of the last decade. Now she’s back with “Missing U,” the abbreviated title of which suggests the university-level course in loss and regret it delivers.
Bawling, meet banging! Banging, bawling!
In a rare recent interview, Robyn indicated that she was trying to strip down the sounds on her forthcoming eighth album, which has been due for… well, eight years, as far as fans are concerned. But the only minimalist in “Missing You” is in the percussion – it’s basically the sound of a bass drum being struck steadily for pretty much the entire 4 minutes and 51 seconds. But there’s not a lot of skimping in the rest of the production, which cycles through bittersweetly grandiose synth loops to meet Robyn at the depths and heights of her despair. It’s the partial handiwork of longtime collaborator Klas Ahlund, who worked on both her self-titled masterpiece “Robyn” (2005) and the EP-combining patchwork “Body Talk” (2010), along with Joseph Mount of the electronic music group Metronomy. And it’s a welcome return to somewhat traditional pop form after her mid-decade collaborative efforts took her in more experimental directions.
The release of “Missing U” is being accompanied by a video — not a traditional music video or even (just) a lyric video, but an “OMG, she’s really back” documentary teaser. In the clip, organizers of an ongoing Robyn-themed dance night at Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg are seen gathering audio messages from her most emotional devotees urging her to attend, which culminated in her showing up for a DJ set in May. Before making the divine visitation, Robyn is seen explaining — or not really quite explaining — her long absence from the commercial pop scene. “I haven’t made an album in eight years, so I haven’t seen my fans for a long time either,” she says. “I felt like I really had to do some exploration to see what I wanted to write about again and find out some new things about myself.”
And what she found out about herself that she wanted to write about was… sadness, glorious sadness! At least for “Missing U,” which is not ultimately that far afield from the spirited melancholia that made her into a top diva in the late 2000s. But fresh variations on that theme never get old, at least in her hands. “‘Missing U’ is a song about this trippy thing that happens when people disappear,” she explains in the video. “It’s like they become even more clear and it’s like you see them everywhere. And (it’s) also maybe a little bit of a message to my fans, that I’ve missed them. So I kind of think singing back to them is important.”
You don’t even have to be one of her over-the-top Brooklyn cultists to find cause for verklempt-ness in her looming comeback: Even after a layoff, Robyn is still the best ghost we’ve had in the dancing machine this century.