Robyn Mends Her Own Heart on the Subtle, Sparkling Honey
Since the release of her last album, 2010’s Body Talk, Robyn has been through a lot—the death of a creative partner, a breakup, depression, dealing with the pressure of following up a singular work. The pop trailblazer found refuge on the dancefloor, she says, and the resulting album is a salute to the restorative power of music and movement: Honey, sparkling yet subtly realized and constantly in motion, follows Robyn from the precipice of heartbreak into the club and onto the beach, and eventually toward something resembling redemption.
Honey opens with “Missing U,” a plaintive, shimmering ballad with filigrees that beckon toward the downcast melody of “Call Your Girlfriend” and lyrics that pick at the confusion and heartache of a longtime connection being severed: “All of the plans we made that never happened / Now your scent on my pillow’s faded,” she sings. From there, the music subtly shifts, Robyn realizing her innate worth and ability to ache amidst the icy synths of “Human Being” and skip-stepping up the scale in tandem with disco strings on “Because It’s In the Music,” even as the lyrics are tinged with regret.
The middle section of Honey is stunning, both in its musical execution and the gentle yet forceful unfurling of its emotional journey. “Baby Forgive Me,” a duet between Robyn and a pitched-down vocalist (a “Sad Robot,” according to the credits, courtesy of Swedish electro duo Mr. Tophat), crests into full-on ballad mode as Robyn’s resolute, if slightly weathered voice begs for absolution, dissipating into the wind before she can receive an answer. It leads right into “Send to Robin Immediately,” a gorgeous dancefloor meditation that borrows its pulsing beat from Lil Louis’s 1989 house crossover hit “French Kiss.” The earlier song’s insistent push toward ecstasy comes when “Send” crashes right into the glimmering title track, a confident, sensual undulation where Robyn commands her desire, asserting the grown-woman ideal that “down in the deep, the honey is sweeter…. down in the deep, the current is stronger.”
From there, the mood lightens, with spiky synths hearkening back to the post-“French Kiss” house-pop era of Crystal Waters’s “Gypsy Woman (She’s Homeless)” and Robin S’s “Show Me Love” on “Between the Lines.” “Beach2K20” casts a vision of tropical house’s lighter, giddier future, as the listener eavesdrops on Robyn playfully planning an evening’s activities behind radiating beams of synth. “Ever Again” is the album’s riding-off-into-the-sunrise coda, its gently percolating beat adding resolve to a message of cautious resilience. “Never gonna be brokenhearted / Ever again… Only gonna sing about love / Ever again,” she coos over drowsy synths and bouncing bass. While this could be read as Robyn trying to break out of the dancefloor-sadness reputation she’s earned from “Call Your Girlfriend” and other dancing-through-it jams like the indelible “Dancing On My Own,” it’s also also an expression of the rejuvenating hope that strikes when seemingly eternal bummer vibes finally get kicked—the sound of a world opening from shades of gray into brilliant colors, good times not only possible but in tantalizingly close reach.
Honey is an album about space—mourning it, seeking it out, luxuriating in it. Where older tracks like “Dancing On My Own” and “Be Mine” sorted through emotions plainly (the latter’s spoken-word bridge might be the most wrenching short poem about shoelaces since Hemingway’s baby shoes), here, Robyn lets the textures and vibe of her beats do the talking. She’s living in the moment, engaging the mundanities that refocus her attention from the big heartbreaks toward the future, whatever its bumps. By letting go she’s gained perspective, and because of it, the moments to come will be sweeter, and stronger, than even the most rose-colored memories of the past.