Robyn released her “Body Talk” EPs across the length of 2010 (or you might have picked up the “Body Talk” LP if you wanted the official collection of all three releases together), and they stand collectively as one of the greatest pop statements of the past 20 years. Robyn was able to distill and reinvigorate dance-pop like no one else at the time, or since. And apart from some collaborative EP releases with Röyksopp, La Bagatelle Magique and Mr. Tophat, we’ve not had a proper solo record from her since then. But now we have “Honey,” a vibrant and introspective slice of pop brilliance that stands alongside her best work.
And from the opening track of “Honey,” you get the feeling that things have changed since she released “Body Talk.” Her approach is somewhat more subdued this time around, a bit more introspective. Even so, there are moments when the bombastic beats and continent-wide melodies of her previous album make an appearance. But “Honey” is more about finding comfort in your environment, finding solace in your own skin, than it is a full-on barrage of sense-pummeling sounds.
“Missing U” comes closest in adopting the dancefloor fluorescence of “Body Talk,” though it thankfully doesn’t retread the same territory. Arpeggiated synths, bubbly beats and one very enormous melody make it very clear that no one can do pop quite like Robyn. The title track, which made its initial debut on the final season of the HBO series “Girls,” has been reworked and now feels fuller and imbued with a cavernous emotionality and resilience. But these songs aren’t exactly club bangers, and while that may lead to a bit of hesitation on the part of some fans, the record doesn’t need that over-the-top pop extravagance to communicate on a primal level with its audience. She’s demolishing the foundations of house music and re-branding it as only she can.
On “Human Being,” she works with Kurdish pop singer Zhala to explore the concept of identity and acceptance alongside a thumping percussive bounce and trails of icy synths. This is more emotional osmosis than club assimilation — the music still commands a considerable physicality, but there’s a resonant musical singularity at its heart which reaches down into your deepest places to work a particular magic that few artists can even imagine.
Some of the songs (like “Beach2k20” and “Between the Lines“) aren’t as immediately memorable, and for those unaccustomed to some of her slow-burners, they could be seen as filler. But Robyn doesn’t trade in filler, and they simply require patience to reveal their secrets. “Between the Lines” elevates a series of funky R&B-indebted grooves to universal relevance while “Beach2k20” mutates lounge-y arrangements into a warped pop wonderland. Robyn is fully in control here, and she’s not giving up all the great details without some work on our part.
And if “Honey” doesn’t quite hit the magnificence of “Body Talk,” that’s only because her previous record was such a monumental leap forward for the genre. “Honey” is easily one of the best records of the year, finding new ways to express heartache, love and lust within the confines of pop music’s ever-shifting atmospheres.