Murphy’s Law: diving into Róisín Murphy’s music

Like all the best things in life, my relationship with Róisín Murphy started in the local library.

I’d borrowed a copy of her 2005 debut solo album, Ruby Blue. Back then I had no idea who she was; I just thought the CD cover looked interesting, and I hadn’t yet realised that she was the singer from Moloko, best known for their huge hit Sing It Back.

Ruby Blue sounded like the kind of album that Björk would make, and I mean that as the highest compliment. Pitchfork said at the time that Ruby Blue was far superior to Murphy’s work with Moloko, declaring: “it’s hard to imagine anyone not ranking this as the best thing Murphy has ever done.”

Here’s the video for Sow Into You, one of only two singles released from the album.

However, it was Murphy’s next album, the shimmering, dancefloor electropop triumph Overpowered (2007) that got me properly hooked on her music. The Guardian said Overpowered was: “a sumptuous 11-track, all-killer-no-filler, electro-disco gem” and “the best grown-up dance-pop album since Madonna’s Ray of Light. Yep – that good.”

After Overpowered I hungrily searched the internet for all of Murphy’s work, hunting down b-sides and remixes, live performances on YouTube, and collaborations with other artists. There were occasional treats, with guest vocals on other people’s songs, and even an EP sung entirely in Italian, Mi Senti, which consisted of five covers and only one original new song.

It proved to be a long wait until her next album, Hairless Toys, which wasn’t released until 2015.

Hairless Toys was not quite the album I was expecting; not as immediately accessible or hook-laden as Overpowered, and somehow even more experimental than Ruby Blue. It took me a long time to appreciate its charms. The Quietus praised the album as a complete triumph:

So not an out and out album of doof dancefloor bangers, this is more the evolution of an artist, at comfort in her environment, and holding her own. Think Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing, or even an electronic Broken English – an album that can be enjoyed at home as you’re ready to go out or come home afterwards to. Hairless Toys is a complete masterwork, and serves notice that Murphy is well and truly back and still some serious way ahead of her peers. All hail!

Murphy quickly followed up Hairless Toys with Take Her Up To Monto, which was released the following year in 2016. Pitchfork had this to say:

What elevates Take Her Up to Monto—and all of Murphy’s records, frankly—is a fearless, restless spirit. Multi-part tracks like “Thoughts Wasted,” “Ten Miles High,” and “Nervous Sleep” toss the rulebook out the window as Murphy merges genres, sounds and feelings. “Thoughts Wasted” is perhaps the album’s highlight: Beginning with a echoey piano riff, the song starts off as a pop song before violins arrive for a startling minimalist bridge with countermelody that would be more expected on a Bang on a Can album. When Murphy’s voice re-emerges, it’s accompanied by a ghostly choir that signals that song’s third act, a spoken word tour-de-force.

Although accompanied by striking visuals, this is the album that I feel the least connected to.

In 2018, Murphy got back to the club, with a series of four 12″ singles, showcasing eight house-tinged new dance tracks.

Here’s the fantastic Jacuzzi Rollercoaster.

These dance tracks were perfectly followed up with, what is for me, her best album: Róisín Machine.

The Quietus said:

every single one of its songs implores you to dance, and in doing so implores you also to forget the human fragility of which you are so incessantly reminded. Vicariously through Róisín Murphy – be she god, machine, person, or something floating between them – we can forget our fragile bodies, losing ourselves in a blissful utopia, even if only for an hour.

DIY mag said:

this is her most defiantly disco record to date. Where ‘Overpowered’ or ‘Take Her Up To Monto’ might veer off on prog or avant garde jaunts, ‘Róisín Machine’ is lit exclusively by the glitterball. Ever since ‘Sing It Back’, it’s where she’s felt most at home. But this is Róisín’s idea of disco. Disco, for the most part, is fairly surface level. Good times, bright lights, sweaty bodies. If it makes you move, it’s a winner. If it makes you think too, to Róisín, that’s even better.

This was easily my favourite album of 2020, and is a highlight of Róisín Murphy’s career. How can you possibly resist Narcissus?

Murphy played a wonderful set at Glastonbury this year; here’s Incapable, taken from Róisín Machine.

Most exciting of all, though, is this confirmation from Murphy that she has already completed her her next album (from NME):

“I’ve worked on and off for the last five years with DJ Koze on my next album,” she said. “It’s in the final stages now, I haven’t played it to anyone and I’m not signed. Now I’m in the process of sending out this slab of gold and seeing how it goes from there.”

She added: “It’s really good! If you put the two things together and add another 22 and a half percent expectation on the top of that, you’re pretty close.”

Dive into Murphy’s music with this playlist of my favourite tracks:

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