Katy B: Honey review – a paean to clubbing

(Rinse/Virgin EMI)

The voice of Katy B is a dulcet contradiction. Kathleen Brien’s everygirl tones remain versatile enough to glide from sub-genre to sub-genre, yet distinctive enough to mark every cut with her scent. It is now ever more recognisable, thanks to two albums straddling the meridian between chart and club.

Her third, Honey, finds the 26-year-old hitching her gossamer non-swagger to beats provided by over a dozen producers. Behind the scenes, Brien lost her elder brother in 2014 and broke up with her long-term partner; escapism feels like succour here. Where 2014’s Little Red (a UK No 1) found Brien tilting pop-wards, Honey isn’t so much a retrenchment into clubland as a knowing toss of the head that says: “The clubs are the charts are the clubs.”

Not coincidentally, Katy B’s first UK No 1 single finally arrived last October, when she joined the rapper Tinie Tempah on a reworking of a deliciously rubbery dance hit by KDA, now known as Turn the Music Louder (Rumble). Brien’s vocals celebrate the lure of the dancefloor – just like her own 2010 calling card Lights On. Uncharacteristically, too, she holds one note for ages, notching up some unexpected ecstatic house diva chops.

Watch the video for Who Am I

Also potentially global is Who Am I, which finds Brien laying down some reverberating south London hurt on top of a beat by the party music superstars Major Lazer. (Comeback phenomenon Craig David croons alongside her, but it’s actually about Brien’s first boyfriend ).

A cast list as long as Honey’s inevitably produces a patchwork. Some tunes are so uneventful you wonder why they bothered. The title track with the much-vaunted XL signing Kaytranada is nothing to write home about. The late-night soul of the album lies, perhaps, in the tunes that come out of Birmingham, where a significant tranche of UK bass music now originates. I Wanna Be teams Brien up with Chris Lorenzo, one of the scene’s main architects, for some Balearic house-indebted sounds.

While necessary, these tracks aren’t the album’s most memorable. Lose Your Head nags harder, with Brien a little underused on a three-way grime hook-up (“R&G”, is the precise term; with HeavyTrackerz featuring D Double E and J Hus) notable for its career-first boasting. “No one moves the crowd like Katy,” she chants, sounding a touch embarrassed.

The tune that trailed the album back in December remains its best. Yet another paean to clubbing, Calm Down (with Four Tet and Floating Points) weds rubbery underwater hooks to a two-step “Tsk, tsk” that’s as elegiac as the vocal.

Straight after it comes Heavy (Mr Mitch), all sonar bloops and icy R&B delivery. Here, Katy B finally channels weightier matters, embellishing this grand tour of dancefloors with some internal weather. “You manipulate my mind till it’s twisted,” she hisses, an everygirl wronged; “You’re the cure/ The cause of my misery.”


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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