If you’re approaching Robyn’s first album in eight years in the hope of enormous wall-to-wall pop bangers, you may be a little puzzled by ‘Honey’. Sure, there are still huge anthems to be found here – the bittersweet ‘Missing U’ is undeniably classic Robyn, along with the viscous pop gold of the title track – but elsewhere there’s a softening of edges; that usual urgency replaced by a vaguer, more intense sense of personal loss.
Suspense slowly builds and fades throughout; many of the cyclical, repeating melodies and added flourishes) particularly the mischievous monologue at the centre of ‘Beach 2k10’ and the four-to-the-floor ‘Between the Lines’) nod directly to New York house music. Though Robyn has always been an artist you immediately associate with a dark, anonymous club, colliding loneliness and heartbreak with a burning desire to dance the pain away, the entire structure of ‘Honey’ – pivoting from darkness to light with mid-point track ‘Send To Robyn Immediately’, before fluttering away on a final wave of hopefulness – seems to be a direct nod to the beat-filled basements she so often disappears into.
Robyn’s rarest talent is the instinctive way in which she brings together jarring and disparate emotions, and immortalises them in magical pop amber. Though the pain she’s exploring here is less immediate and stinging than the thwack of being screwed over, it’s explored just as expertly.
So often, ‘Honey’ perfectly speaks to the strangely tranquil space that permanent loss leaves behind. The self-inflicted ache of ‘Because It’s In The Music’ cuts to the core. “Even though it kills me, I still play it anyway,” Robyn sings atop warmly pulsing waves. And even when grief is at the forefront – the abandoned plans and incomplete pictures of ‘Missing U’ come to mind – there’s a generosity alongside it. Frequently, ‘Honey’ values the remnants of the past as much as it yearns after their return. “Every colour and every taste / Every breath that whispers your name / It’s like emeralds on the pavement,” goes the title track.
There’s also a gentle sensuality to ‘Honey’. “Won’t you get me right where the hurt is?” Robyn asks, and it doesn’t take a genius to join the jigsaw that follows – “some kind of flower” and “stuck in glitter, strands of saliva” clearly allude to a very particular kind of extracurricular release from heartache.
Whether she’s craving escape by way of the dancefloor, the white beaches of Ibiza, or a proverbial dip into the honey-pot, ‘Honey’ acknowledges that deep, throbbing pain can sit alongside escapist pleasure. From an artist who conjures up so many lofty titles – pop genius being one of them – this is a record that takes an altogether different tack to cut through to the raw, complex tangle of emotion.
This may not be Robyn’s huge, chart-conquering return– but really, from such a trail-blazing artist, did you really expect anything other than a subversion of expectations?