September: Roisin Murphy – Hairless Toys

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.

16 comments

  1. misterstory

    Sorry from me too Guy. Mega busy and no sleep for nearly 2 months now. However, I love this album and I’m getting loads out of it. Great call in my humble opinion.

  2. whyohwhyohwhy

    Thanks for the responses brothers. Sorry to hear you’re having a crap time of it Brother Joseph, that’s wack.

    Still, I’m loving this and it’s on regular play. She was great on Jools.

    Who’s Oct by the way?!

  3. David Allison

    Right. Really got my teeth into this now. We’ve had such a great run recently, such an embarrassment of riches, but this is yet another. What a fascinating, unusual record. Mature and beguiling.

    I was looking forward to this, having seen la Murphy at Sonar and been blown away by her presence, her costumes, her songs – and the way that a knowledgeable, dance music-savvy Euro crowd like that had such love for her and knew her so well. Because when you listen to a record like this, you wonder quite who her audience is. It’s so steeped in an understanding of her genre, but it’s way too reflective and leftfield to be considered an electro pop album. This is an album by a grown up.

    Gone Fishing sets the tone from the beginning – a minor key riff that feels dark and soulful. Evil Eyes is a more upbeat, funky affair, sprinkled with those magical 80s synths as it builds (the synths are pure mid 80s Scritti Politti – love them!). The centre piece is, of course, Exploitation – I love that you’d release a 9 minute single – and it’s quite the epic. Indeed, for an album that has only 8 songs, the shortest of which is at least 5 mins long, there’s no sense of drag or repetition. I think RM is showing us what you can do with the form when you really know what you’re doing.

    But the album really comes into its own for me with the last two songs. Hairless Toys (also massive votes for the eeriness of that title) is an extraordinary ballad, a bleak, hearfelt ‘sorry’, and it’s followed by the equally impressive Unputdownable, a song that seems to have about 4 different amazing parts, building to a very satisfying climax.

    In short: it’s a cracker. I’ll be playing this for years to come.

  4. whyohwhyohwhy

    That’s pretty much a perfect summing up Brother David. I think it’s ‘above’ pop, in many ways, it’s like a work of art. And that isn’t some sort of hifalutin hyperbole, it’s just so subtle and interesting and rewards each listen more and more. I can’t think of how anyone wouldn’t like this that didn’t like decent music.

    It has something to offer from each track (I’m really suckered by Evil Eyes, and yes, THOSE SYNTHS), but right across the board, it’s just a thing of beauty. And at the centre of it is Murphy’s individuality. I’ve seen her live (and will again soon) and I can’t wait to see what she’s got up her sleeve. Even in two songs on Later she made her mark.

    The last 3 songs are an incredible finish. And for Unputdownable, I’ve shed the odd tear to that.

    We’re on a roll, basically. No pressure for October then.

    • misterstory

      Hi guys. Huge apologies guys. Dark times at casa story continue. I agree with all the comments. I really do. It’s an incredible piece of work. It’s close to perfect. I know it’s a stretch but there is something that really reminds me of sounds of silver. It’s perfect in the same sort of way. I love that all the tracks are 5 mins plus. I love the sequencing of the tracks it couldn’t be any better. I think I love this lady. The only question is – why was this not better reviewed? Why are people not raving about this being one of if not the albums of the year? Is it cause of the awful type face on the cover?

  5. whyohwhyohwhy

    Brother Joseph, really sorry to hear that. And I’m with you on all the comments. Basically, it should be (is) a classic, but it’s just not ‘cool’ enough for the kids and the songs are probably all a ‘bit long’. For ringtones, at least. Ok, so that’s flippant, but really, it deserves to be in top ten lists and the rest. It’s a thing of shimmering beauty.

    Pitchfork makes a nice job of it: http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/20518-hairless-toys/

    But also, I just can’t get Evil Eyes out of my head. It’s brilliant. It’s probably the most accessible song on the album, but it’s still awesome.

  6. misterstory

    Its Uninvited Guest that I can’t get out of my head. The words of the Pitchfork review are great but why not an 8+ / ‘Best New Music’? I think you’re right about her not being enough of darling / hyped etc to get the big rave reviews. On meta-review sites it does fair quite well though as consistently everyone has it around the 70-80%. Whats a review anyway? Thoughts? Suggestions? Glad we love it. It is beautiful. Yes, ‘shimmering’. Nice vocab.

  7. nolankane706

    Ah dear, I’m really late to the party on this. Sorry brothers. It was delivered to my old house, and when I finally collected it I was about to go on holiday so am running a bit behind you on this.

    I think that my feelings on this are very similar to everyone on this album. It’s great and has grown on me with every listen.

    The track that did it for me on the first listen was Univited Guest.

    I like how she has always evolved as an artist but not too much. This album is fresh for her but not too far away from her older work that I love.

    There isn’t much I can say on this really, it’s a really strong album!!

    • whyohwhyohwhy

      Glad this is getting all the love I’d hoped. I just can’t grow tired of it at all. There’s rewards with each listen and its an instant modern classic. Why oh why it won’t get the sales it deserves probably says more about the record-buying public than our tastes. What a shame. Though it’s Mercury nomination is massively deserved!

  8. whyohwhyohwhy

    Shame she didn’t win the Mercury, though it never felt like she was going to. It’s not stopped me loving it though.

    And I saw her on Friday at Hammersmith. It was sensational. Amazing voice, great band, real charisma and about 2342 costume changes. Love it. Love her.

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