Eight years is a long time to wait between records, but Swedish pop star Robyn needed to regroup between her breakthrough album, Body Talk, and the new Robyn album, Honey.
The death of producer Christian Falk and the tumultuous end of a romance took the wind from her sails. “I was so emotional that everything I did became too messy,” she has said. “I couldn’t listen to music because it made me feel too many things.”
Feeling things, however, is what has always drawn us to the electronic textures and club beats of her best work. “Call Your Girlfriend,” “With Every Heartbeat” and the protean “Dancing on My Own” imbued icy synthetics with the beating, bleeding heart of a searching human being. Her fans can never get enough of the melancholy she exposes beneath the disco ball.
So it’s hard not to approach the new Robyn album Honey with trepidation. No matter how good the new songs might be, a mix of disappointment and excitement for new material plays havoc with initial impressions. And the sonic landscape — guided by producers Joseph Mount of Metronomy, Mr. Tophat, Kindness’s Adam Bainbridge and Klas Åhlund of Teddybears — is decidedly muted, a far cry from the bright pop of Body Talk, which she couldn’t access emotionally.
“It was physically impossible because I was disabled by sadness,” Robyn says. “That’s why the music is soft: I didn’t have the energy to do something pompous.”
She addresses her sadness directly across the short, nine-track release, heavily in its first four cuts, starting with premiere single “Missing U,” a direct descendent of the arpeggiated grandeur of “With Every Heartbeat” from 2005’s Robyn, and on into the reflective “Human Being,” the deceptively upbeat “Because It’s In the Music” and the pleading “Baby Forgive Me.” The strangest track, “Beach 2k20,” produced by Mr. Tophat, is also the sunniest; a louche, lounge-y groove punctuated by a half-sung, half-spoken lyric that’s as breezy and inconsequential as a day near the ocean.
And the title track on this new Robyn album Honey is the gloomiest evocation of ardor imaginable.
It’s heartbreaking and empowering to listen to the artist bring herself back towards the joy and liberation that’s embedded rhythmically into the best dance music. Yet for the first time on a Robyn record, the desolation outweighs the euphoria, the way it often does in life. In a genre too often prone to producing mindless twaddle, a mature, thoughtful, ruminative emotional journey is a striking anomaly. It’s also a thing of rare beauty: it’s what makes the nectar, once it finally arrives, taste so goddamned sweet.
The new Robyn album Honey is out now.
Featured image by Heji Shin