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Review: Robyn Lets the Grooves Take Over on the Excellent ‘Honey’

Her first album in eight years offers a personal take on disco’s healing ecstasy.

Robyn, 2018

Heji Shin

Few artists deserves as much credit as Robyn for marrying the sciences of 21st century pop and club music; her records are precisely calibrated verse-chorus-verse hook-fests that erupt into brief moments of ego-dissolving dancefloor bliss. Her songs can feel intensely intimate – vulnerable, melancholy, lonely, despondent – which makes their yin-yang even more striking.

On her first album in eight years, taking a more active hand on the production side after what seems to have been a period of painful personal change, Robyn relaxes the tempos and lets the healing ecstasy of club grooves take over. The songs are still packed with pop hooks and choruses. But they’re dispensed more leisurely. Breakdowns are elongated, beats are more seductive and hypnotic, and the purist reverence for classic disco, house and techno is more explicit. Like a great DJ set, songs morph into one another thematically and structurally, most notably in the album’s central triptych. The woozy deep house of “Baby Forgive Me” is an intoxicating duet with Swedish producer Mr. Tophat (the “sad robot voice” in the credits). That track gradually reveals a gospel-house sunrise on “Send To Robyn Immediately,” a collaboration with Kindness (Adam Bainbridge) and Sampha that works in a sample of Lil Louis’ intoxicating club classic “French Kiss.” An earlier reference to “honey” then becomes an extended techno metaphor with the title track, a vortex of beats co-produced by Robyn with longtime wingman Klas Åhlund. It’s a tour de force: when she sings “the current is stronger,” a rippling electronic phrase drives that point home, while vintage synth stabs recall the timbral signature of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.”

Robyn frequently echoes that English art-rock heroine on Honey, both in tone and the boldness of her auteurist pop vision. See “Because It’s In The Music,” a disco tribute about sound as salvation that simultaneously conjures Sister Sledge’s We Are Family and Bush’s Hounds of Love, with Robyn multi-tracked into a flash-mob of backing vocalists atop a string-section ascent. There’s still sadness hovering over the proceedings. The aching single and opening track “Missing U,” with its time-suspending looped arpeggio, is about loss and a love that “still defines” the singer, while “Human Being” refers to “a dying race,” struggling to assert its warm flesh-and-blood bonafides in vocals frosted in electronics and unspooling in a synthscape.

But the music works its magic, and like a perfect night of clubbing, the uplift is ultimately irresistible. On “Ever Again,” the nine-song-set’s finale, it’s as if management has turned on the lights, and a purified crowd skips into the daylight. “I swear I’m never gonna be brokenhearted ever again!,” Robyn chirps. Sure, it’s an absurd declaration on the face of it. But sometimes these are the things we need to tell ourselves to keep going.

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