Give the crazy old girl her due. Roisin Murphy has walked the thin line between weird and saleable with astonishing skill for nigh on twenty years now, and if she’s decided that squeaky-clean floor-fillers are her thing, at this point she can be forgiven.
It was always bound to happen, of course; at heart, she’s a showgirl. When her first electronic-club-pop-dance-knob-fiddling duo, Moloko, fell apart, it was because she wanted to tour, and her boyfriend-bandmate didn’t; if you look for live footage of them playing, Murphy’s always having a whale of a time, while Mark Brydon looks as though he wishes he were home with a nice cup of tea.
Moloko were terrific: they had a knack for a hook, and could stir up a groove as well as anybody in the business – certainly better than that charlatan, Allison Goldfrapp, who always seems to hog all the credit for anything vaguely atmospheric or dreamy or generally “electronic” that came out of Britain at the time. And, what’s more, they seemed to have a whole Father Christmas’s workshop’s worth of musical tricks up their sleeve. Even as they were disintegrating, they released Statues, their most fully realised record yet, a record bitter in places, and sentimental in others, but a rousing listen through and through, and an omen of what was to come next.
What was to come next was this: an intriguing, slightly confusing, highly left-of-centre solo album called Ruby Blue, in which Murphy gave her voice free reign, changing gears from hurt waif to robot-alien to big-chested soul singer from song to song – and sometimes within the same song – and all of this over backing that’s everything from drum loops to woodwind. The effect is cinematic; she conjures up worlds with ease, except those worlds are like nothing anyone’s ever seen before. It takes pop songwriting apart and puts it back together again, and not quite so the pieces fit, but enough for it to be attractive enough that Pitchfork called it “the ultimate combination of human warmth and technological know-how“, and we all know how Pitchfork is always right about everything.
Roisin Murphy likes stage costumes and dancing girls, and blowing everything out of proportion, and this is a wonderful thing in a world of people who believe that a pair of jeans and a tee shirt constitute a stage outfit. She will probably never stretch her mad, colourful brain as far as Ruby Blue again – the next album, which sold better, is a polished job with half the heart and none of the imagination – but that’s alright. She’s done a Ruby Blue, she’s free to leave now as far as I care.
This one found its way to Wild City on Nov the 7th, 2012.