Eight years can be several eternities in the music world, and it’s a very long time for an artist to go without releasing a new album. But if you’re Sade, D’Angelo or, evidently, pop savant Robyn, you can take your sweet time, because your fans trust that it will be worth the wait.
Indeed, after leading the smart-alt-pop charge with her eponymous and “Body Talk” albums and songs like “Dancing on My Own,” Robyn has spent the last eight years doing seemingly everything except release a proper new Robyn album. She dropped a remix disc (and toured behind it) and a collaborative EP with her pals in Royksopp (and toured behind that, too), as well as tag-teams with La Bagatelle Magique, the Lonely Island, Todd Rundgren, Mr. Tophat and Metronomy (the latter two are collaborators on “Honey,” along with Kindness’ Adam Bainbridge and her longtime co-writer/producer Klas Ahlund). She also, as has been mentioned in seemingly every recent article about her, endured a wrenching breakup and went through extensive therapy.
All of this is mentioned less for historical than artistic context: “Honey” was hard won, and most of the above is present in the album’s songs, lyrically and/or atmospherically. The album is both elated and tense, blissful and sad. Its meticulous arrangements, pristine production and densely layered vocals imply years of obsessive work, but it rarely gets bogged down in details. It’s perfectionist but not stiff; there’s a spirit of freedom and abandon that overrules any rigidity.
The album’s primary sound is Robyn’s trademark shimmering pop and her nuanced, sweet-and-sour vocals, but it also finds her exploring new neighborhoods. “Honey” is not a dance-music album and isn’t even all that danceable; instead, it’s a pop album that is deeply informed by dance music, in particular a theory that Robyn floated in a recent interview — that unlike pop, where the payoff comes in a hook or the chorus, in dance music the payoff is often constant, based around the steady groove. That circular, repetitive structure underpins several songs here, including the glistening first single “Missing U,” as well as more dance-oriented tracks like “Send to Robin Immediately” [sic], “Between the Lines” and “Beach 2K20.” Nearly all of the songs are powered by deep sub-bass, which propels the beat without necessarily inspiring booty shaking.
The album concludes with its most direct pop song, “Ever Again,” a plush and sublime soundsplash that closes with many multitracked Robyns singing the song’s beautiful chorus over propulsive electric bass and sweeping washes of synthesizers. It’s a perfect sendoff to an album that’s both challenging and familiar, and a chorus she probably knew listeners would have echoing in their heads long after “Honey” ends. Let’s just hope it’s not echoing for another eight years …