Forgiveness and heartbreak drive Robyn’s fifth LP, Honey, but she doesn’t lose sight of the party (or the morning after the party). Robyn manages to occupy a unique place in the pop canon that allows her to explore sadness, the building blocks of dance music, and the human condition — all while making joyful, approachable pop music.
The tone of Honey is set on the album’s first track and the set-up single for the project, “Missing U.” That carefully selected use of “U” rather than “You” tells the listener there’s some debt to Prince to be explored, which Robyn does in the keyboards and synths that cover the beat like a waterfall over rocks. Though the song was positioned on its release as a tribute to her fans, who have been waiting for a new album from the Swedish artist since 2010’s Body Talk, it is, in fact, an ode to her state of mind following a break-up, vividly picturing the space her partner used to occupy in her life. She follows with an ode to human connections, titled “Human Being,” which she told Pitchfork is meant to be set in a future reality where AI takes over and humans are a minority. She then jumps on a beat lifted straight from the Bee Gees stellar ‘70s catalog on “Because It’s In the Music,” another lament of a shattered relationship. She continues to jump between ideas and styles over “Baby Forgive Me,” a hangover of a song with trippy in-and-out audio and a gently swaying beat that segues slowly into “Send to Robyn Immediately,” a track sent to her with that absurd file name, that’s all sparkly beats.
The album next takes a sharp left turn on the title track, “Honey,” about a woman feeling some kind of way about her sexuality. The lyrics aren’t double entendres, they’re more like impressionist works hinting at desire (“At the heart of some kind of flower / Stuck in glitter, strands of saliva / Won't you get me right where the hurt is?”). The gorgeous, esoteric lyrics are laid on top of a driving beat, but the music that is more 5 a.m. at the club than primetime — it’s a long seduction influenced by Massive Attack and Black Box. Robyn lets that groove float loosely into “Between the Lines,” a samba-influenced beat with house music roots that would be so comfortable nestled under some Crystal Waters vocals. From there we shift into “Beach2k20,” a palette cleanser. It’s more modern, aesthetically and lyrically, with a tropical beat and spoken words from Robyn that lure you in (“Come thru, it’ll be cool”). It’s long at nearly 5 minutes and 30 seconds but you’ll luxuriate in every second. The album ends with “Ever Again,” a track that could slide right into a John Hughes teen movie from the ‘80s if not for Robyn’s distinctive vocals. Though the lyrics are a hard-hearted take about how Robyn doesn’t plan to feel love ever again, the beat entices you to dance and, frankly, feel happy. This is a specialty of hers; crooning “that shit got so lame” but making you feel empowered and free as you sing along.
Honey slides down as a tonic for all that ails you. Politics? Love? A diminishing sense of humanity and dark fears as we creep into an apocalyptic future thanks to climate change and never-ending wars? Set them aside and sway in the club for a minute, but Robyn won’t ever let you forget to feel or cherish your humanity.