Robyn, 'Honey' album review: The Swedish dance revolutionary's new record glows with bittersweet sensuality

The singer delivers a series of hard truths with a voice that sifts over the synths like icing sugar

Helen Brown
Thursday 25 October 2018 10:08
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Game changer: from Taylor Swift to Katy B, modern pop music owes a debt to Robyn
Game changer: from Taylor Swift to Katy B, modern pop music owes a debt to Robyn

In May, Swedish dance revolutionary Robin Carlsson finally caved to a stream of emails from a group of superfans and appeared at one of their regular Robyn-themed parties at the Brooklyn Bowl. The 39-year-old has been uncomfortable with aspects of her celebrity ever since she rebelled against her teen-star origins, forcing her first producer Max Martin to move on to the more passive 15-year-old Britney Spears as a vehicle for his ideas instead. But in the short film she’s released about her trip to Brooklyn, we see the apprehension of the exposed artist dissolve into the euphoria of the crowd. It’s a joy to watch as she goes crowd-surfing above the heads of adoring goth girls and cross-dressers. In a series of emotional vox pops, they explain how their idol brought their outsider feelings into mainstream dance, allowing them to “embrace and celebrate the sadness in your life”.

There’s no question that Robyn revolutionised dance music, restoring its emotional reality and critical credibility. But in the eight years since the release of her game-changing Body Talk, everybody from pop juggernauts like Taylor Swift and Sia to indie hipsters like Neneh Cherry and Katy B have allowed her influence to seep into their sound.

This could have driven Robyn to define herself with more hard-edge, experimental sounds. But following the death of long-term collaborator Martin Falk and a separation from her partner (with whom she is now reunited), she was gently drawn to “this sweet place, like a very soft ecstasy” and has delivered nine songs that glow and pulse with bittersweet sensuality.

Producers Klas Ahlund and Joe Mount (Metronomy) have kept core elements of classic Nineties Robyn – vocals hunting the heart through a crowd of house beats and big blocky organ chords – but given them a modern twist in little kicks of off-pitch bleeping or scratchy samples of mobile phone conversation.

In a voice that sifts over the synths like icing sugar, Robyn delivers a series of hard truths. “There’s a slick washed up onto the beach” is how she unpacks a breakup in “Missing U”, while the title track’s chorus offers a clear compromise: “No you’re not going to get what you need/ Baby I have what you want/ Come get your honey.” Long and spaciously structured, both songs are warehouse-sized strobe-reachers, with some endearingly awkwardly translated lyrics about love as “nutrition”.

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Between them quirkier tracks descend on bass lines like concrete staircases down to smaller rooms of a vast club complex. I love the percussive pops of “Human Being” (featuring Robyn’s Swedish protege Zhala), which ping-pong over murkier chords: like coming across a vintage arcade game in a damp and deserted basement. “Because it’s In the Music” delivers sherbet hits of oriental melody over a disco bass, while “Ever Again” finds Robyn channelling some Cyndi Lauper kook in the vocal as she swears she’s “never gonna be broken hearted again”. Few of Robyn’s imitators can alchemise sorrow into such genuinely golden ecstasy.

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