Thursday, November 8, 2018

Honey | Robyn

Let’s face it: Records like Robyn’s Body Talk come only once in a career. The record and its crowning tracks, "Dancing on My Own" and "Call Your Girlfriend," are the golden standard of turn-of-the-decade pop, demanding respect for the dance-pop resurgence spearheaded by more theatrical commercial pop artists like Lady Gaga and Britney Spears. In the process, she not only improves and intensifies the subgenre, but also melds it to the sad-pop trend that Lana Del Rey and her generation of viral pop gals would drive home soon afterward.

Then again, artists like Robyn come around not once in a lifetime, but certainly only once in a great while. Perhaps best known for pulling the plug at the height of her teenage stardom in the 1990s because she lacked control within an American record contract that pushed her into Britney Spears' lane, she refuses to be defined – and that includes being defined by the pulsating dance tracks from what is undoubtedly her career's definitive album. No longer will she remain just the saddest fembot on the dance floor – she sets out to be that, and so much more.

Honey, her first record since the final release in the Body Talk trilogy eight years ago, is an unforgiving rollback of her last album's urgency. "Missing U" is the era's determined officiator, placed at the top of the record to marry the four-on-the-floor whiplash from Body Talk to the glittery, understated nature of Honey. From there, the album is a steady comedown: Humid, disco-lite underbellies dressed in slinky, sexy synthesizers and raw human emotion.

And for an artist who made it a point to be so apathetic in the past, Robyn has plenty of emotion to cover: In the time since we last heard from pop's steadfast cult favorite, she lost a longtime musical collaborator to cancer and broke it off (then reconciled) with her longtime boyfriend. She slathers her feelings across even the most sterile of beats, like over the lonely groove of "Human Being," but in a modest move, she refuses to place details in the music, giving frames of reference only in printed profiles. 

The record tears down pop music’s existing framework, instead allowing tracks to build so gradually that ultimate payoffs feel miles removed from the songs' beginnings: Experimental sandbox track "Beach2k20" finally unleashes itself at the midsection, and "Between the Lines" teases its final form for nearly three minutes before every glorious vintage synth pattern, ad-lib, and melody repetition lock in place. The latter track is an ultimate triumph of her stripped experiment, taking similar reference points as Drake's "Hotline Bling" but delivering a rightful house track with them.

While much of the record titillates with its promise of payoff with patience, Honey spends a bit much too time keeping its listeners in suspension; instead, it is indisputably the best when thick and gelatinous. "Send to Robin Immediately" and "Honey" are the muffled neo-'90s low-fi house tracks that we deserved from an artist on Robyn’s caliber, and "Ever Again" closes the nine-track set on a glimmer of analog optimism: "Never gonna be heartbroken ever again, that shit’s out the door. Only going to sing about love ever again." And from Robyn, that’s quite the promise.

Honey is available now under Konichiwa Records and Interscope Records.

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