There are very few pop artists that have garnered the acclaim that Robyn has but with that acclaim comes the weight of expectation. Body Talk might have been the defining pop album of this decade. It has been eight long years waiting for a proper follow up and what we finally get is Honey. Because of Robyn’s name and weight, the album was automatically lauded by critics but does it deserve it?
As has always been the case with Robyn, she can pen a single. The opening track and lead single, “Missing U” sees Robyn working with Joseph Mount and frequent collaborator Klas Åhlund. As Åhlund either co-wrote or produced nearly every track on Body Talk, it is no surprise that “Missing U” sounds like a b-side from the album. It is catchy enough but it certainly doesn’t break any new ground.
Much of the first half of the album does not feel like it breaks much new ground for Robyn; as a matter of fact, it feels like Robyn-lite. Robyn noted that Honey that she “found a sensuality and a softness.” For an artist who’s greatest strength has been the ability to convey emotions through her vocals, the softness sounds like disinterest. “Human Being” mixes minimalist production with fairly monotone vocals to create what sounds more like a person muttering a montra to themselves than a dance-pop song. Similarly, “Send to Robyn Immediately” feels like a song bubbling under the surface for three-and-a-half minutes until it comes to an anti-climax and fades out. It is interesting but feels entirely unsatisfying.
Second single, “Honey” ushers in the album’s more interesting second half. Even for a single, “Honey” feels a little languid. The chorus is pleasing enough but it doesn’t feel entirely satisfying. The last three songs on the album is the strongest run of tracks. “Between the Lines” is a Crystal Waters-esque 90s deep house track; it sounds like a kindred spirit with “Gypsy Woman” and even includes baritone male vocals to really bring that MTV’s The Grind vibe. “Beach2k20” follows suit with the deep house pathos except it puts Robyn on the backburner, making the production the star.
The album’s closing track is its strongest. With its warm AM radio vibes and funk bass, “Ever Again” rejects the minimalism of the album. Robyn’s vocals sound more assured than ever as she sings “never gonna be broken hearted ever again” on the track’s chorus; it is the much need “Dancing On My Own” of this album but being tacked on the end makes “Ever Again” feel like an afterthought, like a record executive listened to Honey and said “where is the single?”
If Robyn set off to make a divisive album, Honey might be it. It tests how much music you are willing to listen to with no big pay off. Endcapping the album with two single-worthy songs smartly makes a good first and last impression but a lot of mediocrity in the middle makes Honey less sweet than seems.