At around the time several of her songs took off in unexpected ways that forecast the crazy land of viral popularity, it seemed Robyn was poised to become as big of a pop star as she wanted to be. Certainly, she was ready to become the most notable musical export from Sweden since ABBA. And then life intervened. Trusted friend and collaborator Christian Falk passed away, a romantic relationship collapsed, and other trouble ground her down. Robyn guested and otherwise pitched in here and there, but the follow-up to the widely celebrated 2010 release Body Talk remained notably absent. Eight years later — and three years after she started working on it in earnest — Robyn finally brings forth Honey. Perhaps the most amazing single aspect of the album is the way is bears the wait of all that delay, all that anticipation, and somehow makes it as light as the mist off a powderpuff.
As if offering quick reassurance, the album opens with “Missing U,” a song so in line with Robyn’s most notable preceding tracks that it feels like its own genre. It’s dance pop, sure. But it’s mostly Robyn pop, wholly reminiscent of her earlier work and yet dazzling in its sense of newness, of invention, of uninhibited joy in putting beats, tones, and words together in a way that makes dancing all but irresistible. In the years since Body Talk, Carly Rae Jepsen has mastered this sort of constant cycle of perfect pop singles, but Robyn offers the confident reminder that she did it first and better.
Point made, Robyn moves on to craft an album that’s less effusive and more complex. It doesn’t yank the listener toward the dance floor so much as set the disco ball slowly spinning and the glitter raining from the ceiling, setting the mode for swaying along. Or not. It’s up to the individual listener. I’ve rarely encountered an album full of expertly crafted electronic beats and vivacious pop hooks that’s less overtly concerned with whether or not someone will give in to the groove. Even when the lyrics hew to the mandate of depicting life as a nonstop party, it does so with sly irony. “Beach2k20” hypnotic in its zombie-like devotion to rip-roaring celebration (“I mean, it’s right on the beach/ Come through, it’ll be cool”).
“Because It’s in the Music” is calibrated to suit a reflective moment skating through Xanadu, and “Baby Forgive Me” takes vintage R&B through the delicates cycle in the Robyn transmogrifier. Robyn is locked in a state of concentrated exploration, building cuts with rippling layers of sound and texture. The music isn’t softening or mellowing, exactly. It’s being taken deeper by Robyn, akin to Björk’s curiosity in enlivening her sonic palette through expansive intricacies. Where Iceland’s favorite daughter can sometimes get so lofty that she’s fully obscured by clouds, Robyn is solidly on the ground. It’s more satisfying to dance when it’s a pas de deux with gravity as a mildly combative partner. To a degree, that’s the calm certainty all those years in between her last album and this one have given Robyn. Honey roams freely, and yet it’s always in precisely the right place.