I have always been a fan of Roisin Murphy, since – like many of our generation – I saw her in the video for Molok’s Sing It Back (Boris D’Lugosh, we salute you). In truth by then she’d already been with Moloko for over 5 years at that point. Her voice has always been striking, so when the band went their separate ways, her solo career launched. I have to admit though that I’m hardly a ‘have everything she owns’ fanboy. I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed by anything she’s done, but when I bought Overpowered I didn’t expect it to end up as one of my favourite albums of that year. It’s hard to put your finger on her allure, but it’s more than that voice and the lyrics, even though they’re great. Overpowered is painted as a disco album, but it’s far more than that. Sultry, plush, sweeping and enticing, and with her character at the centre the songs are more than the sum of their parts. I still love it.
So, when I heard ‘Exploitation’ on 6Music, fairly relentlessly, it got in my head. I didn’t love the song, but as with much of what Murphy does, it just has something about it. The wonky lead synth, her breathy vocal almost lost in the wind, the angry piano chords. Then I watched the video, and it reminded me why she’s still one of the most interesting artists around. In fact, it’s criminal – given her creativity and skill – that she’s not as successful as more bland and less inventive compatriots. She was doing interesting female solo pop when Lady Gaga was celebrating her 9th birthday. Isn’t that the way of the music world though?
The album is like a slowly unfurling flower. When I first heard it, it didn’t really grab me like I wanted it to, but then it’s a fairly big departure from ‘Overpowered’. Musically inventive, and challenging, it’s a box of tricks that rewards multiple listens. From Gone Fishing’s almost bossa-nova beginnings, to Evil Eyes’ whimsy (backed up by a truly great video), arguably the most poppy and accessible the album gets, it’s a delight. Uninvited Guest sounds like a Grace Jones record, until that staccato vocal slides in, and it feels like a record that only she could make. There’s musicality to her vocals, in the delivery that almost works them like an instrument, and indeed her range is so huge she can go from full-on throaty top range to almost invisible. It’s central to the album, one that goes slow and grandiose, with no fear of trying to be anything other than what she wants it to be. And it’s long. Much longer song length than most artists would risk these days, but nothing feels stretched out or like filler. Unputdownable is a great example of this as it closes out the album. As a modern pop album it’s one that deserves to sell a ton, but of course it’ll just confuse people wanting three-minute ringtone stuff, but they’re missing out.
More of this: I hope it’s not her last and I hope we don’t have to wait until 2023 for the next one.