An evident passion project that chuckles sultrily at the mould of a pop songstress' third album, Honey's variety and underground spirit gets lost in its own intentions as Katy B embraces, and is embraced by, the ideas that brought her to this point.
When Geeneus, the founder of Rinse FM, wanted to celebrate the graduation of his station from a pirate aerial protruding from his flat window to an actual Ofcom licensee around the turn of the decade, he looked to Katy B to voice a production showreel of their underground producer and MC cohort. Instead, he handled the bulk of the production and picked up a scatter of writing credits on On A Mission and Little Red, records which bore the inflexions of their rave scene amidst angsty pop.
Those successes – Little Red topped the album chart in 2014 and 7 singles have struck the UK top 20 – have attracted a higher profile of guest for Honey, a subsequently supercharged incarnation of that original concept, and it is only Geeneus who can manage to squeeze in a second production nod courtesy of a bit of outro work. Each track is marketed as Katy B x [INSERT PRODUCER] with the exception of a new, Tinie Tempah-less rendition of KDA’s bubbly chart-topper ‘Turn The Music Louder (Rumble)’ upon which Katy featured last autumn, and over 20 collaborators are credited over its 53 minute runtime, including a scatter of UK rappers, Rinse-affiliated producers, and enough genre-hopping to exhaust the hive.
Frontloading the album are its two biggest international coups, including a sultry title track from Canadian phenom Kaytranada at the outset. “Something ‘bout your vibe/I know I can trust you now,” Katy’s first syrupy drool over the former’s sultry title track, is a hopeful opening, but little else arises beyond its first 10 seconds as any charisma slowly falls away. Directly afterwards, lead single ‘Who Am I’ underwhelms the most. With Diplo’s dancehall bonanza Major Lazer – you know, the ones behind the most streamed track of all time in ‘Lean On’ with DJ Snake and MØ – and suave comeback maestro Craig David sharing the billing, expecting something even vaguely interesting is fair. Instead, with nary a sign of Jillionaire, Walshy Fire, or even Diplo’s own sense of creativity, it wobbles nervously. Its opening line, “I’ve got this pain and I don’t know what to do it,” is perhaps as much about the jingling lethargy of the instrumental as her lovestruck duet with David, who is as smooth as ever even without energy in support.
Fortunately, smaller names do pick up the mantle and the apparent ethos of the project more readily later on. Chris Lorenzo, a converted ghost-producer specialising in a bassy house sound, and a former client in Hannah Wants bear highlights with ‘I Wanna Be’ and ‘Dreamers’ respectively, which offer Katy similarly minimal platforms to have vocals in focus before kicking in at appropriate moments. Early teaser ‘Calm Down,’ co-produced by Four Tet and Floating Points, takes a moment to settle through close string parts and peculiar elastic production into a refreshing standout, and Geeneus’ own pair of acknowledgements come on tracks that are at times eye-rollingly introspective yet pleasantly reminiscent of Skrillex’s mellower output.
In its diplomatic attempts to incorporate the entire gamut of London’s dance sounds, some moments do get almost hilariously grime-laden. ‘Lose Your Head,’ produced by ‘German Whip’ crew The HeavyTrackerz and opening with their whispered tag at the start, is an swampish venture through too much sambuca and On A Mission-era references with D Double E and J Hus each using their 30 second slots to act self-parodically. Novelist’s turn on ‘Honey (Outro)’ is mercifully far more ethereal and earnest (“If I can give something back to the world/I hope that I make it proud”) and sometime Disclosure and Snakehips collaborator Sasha Keable – aside from David, the only featured singer on the record – gives Jd.reid production ‘Chase Me’ a wonderful soulful slant that complements Katy’s tender R&B approach delightfully.
Given Katy’s career trajectory thus far, the very existence of Honey is a tad bizarre. Although it was tracks with Benga and the Magnetic Man dubstep supergroup right at the apex of that particular south London movement that brought us to the party, her Ms. Dynamite-fuelled pivot into more carefree pop took the momentum into something commercially viable. Five years on at Honey’s announcement, Katy spoke of her desire to have more club-oriented tracks for her shows in such venues, and when those two worlds aren’t garishly mixed – looking at you, ‘Dark Delirium’ – this record can indeed be rather sweet. Given her talents, it’s sure to make far more sense in that context, even if only because on stage she can utilise her strengths without a bevy of eager producers hijacking their four minutes of limelight.
Honey is out now via Rinse and Virgin EMI