To paraphrase another (often) blonde electro-pop singer, there’s a sense when listening to Robyn that you can dance, for inspiration.
That’s not some claim to heroism or even necessarily an “exemplary” private and public life for 39-year-old Swede. Her life in the 20-or-so years since Do You Know (What It Takes), and in particular since she retooled her career in 2005, has been paradoxically well documented but rarely revealed, expressed in song but rarely detailed there.
Which is, to be fair, a notable achievement in itself, but grandstanding of any sort has never been her go, and a lot of what has been ascribed to her in terms of social or even political issues comes in good part from her appropriation by others, from Lena Denham on.
Instead, inspiration comes from two things. The first of them is knowing – not just sensing, because after prolonged exposure to her any doubt about this interpretation disappears, but knowing – that there’s a truth of emotional expression in her work.
References to crying on the dancefloor in relation to Robyn’s songs pepper interviews and reviews, a semi-serious take which highlights the great probability that even if things start out well in a song – in a family situation, in a relationship, in an internal debate - they won’t end that way. And in any case, things don’t usually start out well.
Honey, which emerges after a long break, a break-up (and, after a couple of years, a reconciliation), a lot of therapy, and of course all the other things which happen in a regular life, does not break this mould.
“There’s this empty space you left behind,” Robyn says in the first song, Missing U, and that empty space is not a good thing; and when she says “I’m never going to be broken hearted again,” in the final song, Ever Again, you can almost hear the self-mocking smile accompanying that bold statement.
It’s not as if Robyn’s voice is by inclination made for sad songs; its high but sturdy nature would probably be more inclined to declarative, and there’s no tendency to “crack” to suggest a vocal equivalent of a tear. But what it does have is a frankness about the experience being described, and especially on Honey, a bend rather than a break in the body.
That’s partly lyrical, but also tone. And Robyn’s tone has always been key because it’s risen on/connected with/and elevated the other point of inspiration: the ability to make songs to dance to that allow for feeling, and then give you space to expand on that feeling.
Here, there has been a change from the Bodytalk of releases in 2010. Honey has taken away some of the harder edge of that period, shifting the beat emphasis from demanding push to persuasive nudge. These are songs to dance to without need to have someone else there, some time to leave, or indeed, some requirement to do more than let your body undulate in the groove.
The album’s centrepiece is the title track which cruises on a low glisten train track of gliding rhythm, muted electronics and the merest suggestion of escalation. Just enough to make you feel the taint of optimism in the lyrics (“No, you’re not going to get what you need/But baby I have what you wanted/Come get your honey”) might back up the sensuality in the hardly disguised metaphor (“The waves come in and they’re golden but down in the deep the honey is sweeter”) and in the vocals which stretch out unhurriedly.
Throughout the album there’s a strong strain of ‘80s pop, not least Prince who can be heard in Ever Again, in the honey metaphor of Honey, and in the sonic treatments within songs that otherwise lean more to a bright, almost Stock Aitken & Waterman style, such as Missing U and Between The Lines.
Spreading the soul/pop love a bit wider to reach the Jacksons (not just Michael but Janet too), the line between the 1980s and ‘90s pulls through the medium impact pulse of Beach2K20 and Send To Robin Immediately, with their simplified synth sounds and plastic coating, and the mix of flight and wistfulness in Because It’s In The Music. It’s very hard not to succumb really.
The short term effect of Honey is close connection and exploration. The longer term effects could be in some deeper understanding and being transported. It may well be true, as that (often) blonde singer had it, that only when you’re dancing can you feel this free.