For the third album in a row, Katy B is perfecting a difficult balancing act. Her musical roots may lie principally in underground garage, house and dubstep, but in her first two LPs, On A Mission and Little Red, she has managed to fuse these elements with song-based structures.
Honey finds her doing just the same, but this time there is more darkness afoot. In the time since her last album her brother Andrew spent 18 months in a coma after an accident and then died, a life-changing event whose scars can be perceived in some of the lyrics here.
Dark Delirium has perhaps the most obvious references, the singer seemingly trying to shake off the malaise intense grief brings. A house piano and shimmering harp curl around the edges of the song as Katy sings of how she needs “someone to take me from this dark delirium”. It is ultimately a gathering of strength, but starts from a fragile place.
Katy B’s vulnerable side has always shone through in her songs, an endearing part of her personality that wins her over to more sceptical listeners. Yet on Honey there is greater self-assurance, and it suits her. Opening with the sultry allure of the title track, inviting her significant other to “taste the honey on my skin”, the influence of American R&B is close at hand, but no matter what the beats are there is always a story to be told.
Bravely she continues the album at a slow tempo, confounding expectations, and it is not until the third track So Far Away when she cranks it up and moves towards the middle of the dance floor, in league with Stamina MC and some fleet footed drum and bass courtesy of Wilkinson.
The track is a blueprint for a collaborative album where the beats remain forward looking, thanks to an imaginative line-up of producer and vocal partners. Four Tet and Floating Points are responsible for the weird, squelching bass ‘line’ and tremolo strings on Calm Down, an urban sunrise track crackling with atmosphere, while Lose Your Head perfects the trick of being slow and fast at the same time thanks to The HeavyTrackerz, J Hus and D Double E.
Meanwhile on Who Am I, a collaboration with Major Lazer where Katy complains how she “can’t let go”, a revived Craig David offers an urgent counterpoint, creating a genuine conversation with fragilities exposed.
The difference with Katy B’s form of dance music is that her songs have real depth, and that no matter how many collaborators she works with, her personality comes through. Thankfully she does not forget to have a party too. I Wanna Be is a brilliant garage track given with Craig Lorenzo, telling a story of how she wants to “get out the friend zone” with a new man, but shaping itself beautifully as a memorable piece of music. Even more direct is Turn The Music Louder (Rumble), punching out the most memorable riff on the album.
Katy B’s brand of Honey, then, is natural and dark, not the treated stuff you’d find in a jar on the supermarket shelf. It is delicately shaded and tells us more of her hopes, dreams, fears and feelings than any interview ever could. It is this direct communication with her listeners, coupled with the strongest of loyalties to her underground heritage, that makes her music as strong as it is.