Katy B has been straddling the lines between the club, the charts, the underground and the stadium her whole career, and in current pop music, the barriers are more blurred than ever. A bedroom producer can go to number one after a soundcloud stream goes viral. The charts are dominated by fresh faces armed with tight house tracks, and older ones clinging to the dance music resurgence. Katy B sits in the middle, happily embraced by music fans from all areas, from club dwellers to drivetime radio listeners.
It’s fitting then, that her third album, ‘Honey’, acts as a celebration of all shades of dance music. In it, she collaborates with an army of differing producers – up-and-coming beatmakers like KAYTANDRA and Hannah Wants, underground darlings like Four Tet and Floating points, and EDM heavyweights like Major Lazer all share a place on the cast.
Katy B’s celebration of the club scene she rose from reminds of Jamie XX’s ‘In Colour’, but where that record was slick and cohesive, ‘Honey’instead feels scatter-brained and bursting at the seems.
This is no bad thing in theory; the most impressive thing about Katy B is her flexibility within a myriad of styles, her smooth vocal sitting comfortably over gritty UK Garage, Drum n Bass, and lush balladry. She’s also an artist with an impeccable taste in beats; 2011’s ‘On a Mission’ is a lean dance album that hasn’t dated whatsoever thanks to her sturdy selection of collaborators.
When ‘Honey’’s mixed bag approach hits the mark, it’s downright stunning. The title track is as smooth as the title would suggest, KAYTANDRA’S resonant kicks and tingling keys propelling the melting synth layers underneath. Katy B’s cool vocal sits gorgeously on top, floating through a jazzy melody and tight harmonies on the chorus; her voice is no better than when layered elegantly over itself.
‘Calm Down’ with Four Tet and Floating Points is just as strong, the singer’s soulful edges adding to the bounce of the 2-step beat as it intensifies in the track’s latter half. The eerie strings and elastic synth-bass mesh well into the mix. It’s impressive how well this three-way collaboration goes over.
At points here, Katy B’s success rely heavily on the strength of her collaborators. ‘Heavy’, featuring Mr Mitch meanders around an ugly descending synth line as the singer struggles to conjure up a memorable melody line. ‘So Far Away’ similarly grows tiresome, with its flat triplet rhythms and a lack of exciting build or texture. Even though Katy B is delivering a strong vocal, the power of her chorus is sapped out by the detached male voices that get in the way rather than adding to its heft. Conversely, ‘Who Am I’ – featuring veteran dance vocalist Craig David – is brimming with hit potential thanks to a beefy Major Lazor instrumental, even if the song’s lyrics feel overly dramatic.
Despite its inconsistency, ‘Honey’ is the victory lap Katy B and her fans deserve. On the album’s gooey outro, the artist looks back at her career (“At least I have these songs to sing. They might not feel like anything, but to me they are my truth, lessons learned throughout my youth… So I made the Honey”). Her passion makes it easy to forgive the album’s shortcomings, even as Novelist drops a clunky verse about getting lost in his headphones. When things get rough, it i’s guaranteed that Katy B has a banger in her back pocket.
‘Honey’ is out now via Rinse and Virgin EMI.
This Katy B review was written by Stephen Butchard, a GIGsoup contributor, edited by Natalie Whitehouse.