The Lowdown: Robyn, our queen mother of electro-dance-pop, has released her first new album in eight years. Honey is a follow-up to 2010’s barnburning, life-altering, career-defining Body Talk, which yielded cultural touchstones “Dancing on My Own” and “Call Your Girlfriend”. Informed by Robyn’s personal struggles, Honey is a softer and sadder album, drenched in beautiful melodies and irresistible beats but also deeply reflective.
The Good: The 15-track Body Talk proved the exception to my general rule that most albums should be around 11 songs at most. But Honey fits that rule with a perfectly curated total of nine tracks exploring melancholic pleasure, the dark and the sweet. Songs like single “Honey” are somehow muted and explosive at the same time, conveying an emotional ambivalence (in the accurate, conflicted sense of the word) that reflects the time and effort spent trying to figure out how exactly to say something. Opening track “Missing U” is in the running for the ultimate dance single of 2018, yearning and agony conveyed in blissful, sparkling perfection. “Because It’s in the Music” is measured yet soulful, an album highlight with the markers of a pop-diva ballad. And the hushed duo of “Baby Forgive Me” and “Send to Robyn Immediately” sitting at the middle of Honey are haunting and pulsating.
The Bad: The first couple times I listened to Honey, I didn’t like it that much. Every song after the opening track, “Missing U”, felt like a coda. I didn’t think I’d be able to experience the emotional catharsis that I was hoping for. I couldn’t imagine driving alone on the freeway singing these songs at the top of my lungs as my body tingled and sparked and shivered. (I may get pilloried for not loving this album right away.)
The Verdict: The third time I listened to Honey, I cried. And the fourth time, too. So, there goes my worry about emotional catharsis. No, it’s not a driving album, but it sure as hell is an album for walking around your city alone with headphones on or for cooking dinner and suddenly realizing you’ve got goosebumps and your fingers are trembling. Sometimes you need to linger with an album, trying it out in different spaces, times of day, and emotional states. When I opened myself up to the shades of desperation and wry, clear-eyed resignation that colored much of the numbness I sensed in Honey — for example, when the soft-and-hard “Let’s go party” refrain on “Beach2k20” finally landed as an intentional expression of feigned enthusiasm in the wake of an understanding that a party won’t cover up the pain — I started to get the type of masochism that Honey is positively dripping with. (As Robyn sings on the titular track, “Won’t you get me right where the hurt is?”) And it’s sad and sweet and lovely and brutal.
Essential Tracks: “Missing U”, “Baby Forgive Me”, and “Send to Robyn Immediately”