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The Best Of Times... Episode Four: Róisín Murphy
John Doran , April 15th, 2019 08:15

Subscribe to our Best Of Times... podcast series today. This week Róisín Murphy talks to John Doran about the highs and lows of her career

Download The Best Of Times... podcast with Róisín Murphy here.

Welcome to The Best Of Times podcast brought you by Lush and The Quietus. Over the coming months John Doran will be talking to people about some of the best and worst times they have been through, and in the process, find out how these experiences have made them who they are today. The podcast is produced and engineered by Luise London and co-produced by Andrew Paine. The theme music is by Oh The Gilt.

Róisín Murphy grew up in Arklow, a small town on the east coast of Ireland but moved with her family to Stockport, Greater Manchester, when she was 12. When her parents separated she elected to live on her own from the age of 15. This example of a headstrong, independent streak can be read as a precursor to the attitude she would adopt toward being a musician - a role she’s fulfilled for the last 25 years, exhibiting no small amount of artistry and eccentricity alongside a way with forging pop hooks.

After meeting former Chakk/Krush musician, Mark Brydon at a Sheffield house party in the early 90s, the pair became romantically and creatively involved; her chat up line to him (“Do you like my tight sweater? See how it fits my body!”) inspired the title of their debut album as Moloko in 1995. The duo were always something of a square peg in a round hole during the late 90s, with most critics of the day not knowing quite what to make of their mix of pop, trip hop, jazz-influenced disco not disco and electronica.

But then that single was released.

Sing It Back initially only reached number 45 in the charts in 1999 but then a remix by German DJ Boris Dlugosch made it a global concern. This was essentially the sound of Summer 1999 and remains cemented in the popular consciousness two decades on. Moloko sidestepped the so-called “Brimful Of Asha curse” caused by having a remix as a breakthrough single. In fact their follow up single, 'The Time Is Now', was an even bigger hit in the UK and they repeated the success with 'Familiar Feeling' in 2003. But cracks were appearing in her relationship with Mark and while they managed to produce a final album Statues, and even tour it, Moloko disbanded soon afterwards, never to reform.

Her solo career since has provided evidence of a restless, creative mind, and she has released music ranging from the leftfield pop of Ruby Blue, made with tech jazz producer Matthew Herbert to a recent series of sumptuous deep house EPs (made in conjunction with Maurice Fulton). Róisín has also recently moved into film making, producing promo videos for herself and Fat White Family ('Tastes Good With The Money'). She has a new single due out this Spring, made with Parrot from Sheffield electronic mainstays, All Seeing I.

I can’t figure out if it was all part of some Machiavellian plan or if it was ‘just one of those things’ but when she recorded Overpowered (what I’d consider to be her finest album, for whatever that’s worth), Róisín Murphy played an absolute blinder. Using something tantamount to chaos magic, she turned previous bad experiences in the music industry (certainly concerning her work as a solo artist) to her own advantage and produced a superlative inducing modern pop album.

After slaving over Ruby Blue in 2003 with Matthew Herbert - an excellent and idiosyncratic rather than frighteningly uncommercial record - she saw Echo, her label of the previous eight years, turn on her. Róisín maintains to this day that the album only failed to connect with an audience immediately because of lack of interest and support from her label.

But instead of seeking out a much smaller indie for a greater deal of creative control she took the counterintuitive move of signing to EMI. The label, apparently, saw in her the potential for a “new Robbie Williams”. So using the financial clout of this behemoth who were expecting a huge payday in return she enlisted the help of multiple songwriters (from Cathy Dennis all the way to Parrot and Dean Honer of All Seeing I), she hired studios in London, Miami and Barcelona and enlisted a huge cast list of producers (Seiji of Bugz In The Attic, Dan Carey of Speedy Wunderground, Andy Cato, Jimmy Douglass, Ill Factor, Mike Ward...) and whether intentionally or not, set these people against one another, working on 30 separate songs for an LP that would only contain 11 tracks. As she explained later, everyone involved wanted to write “the single” and went into creative overdrive - but some songs wouldn’t even make the final cut.

In the short term this alienated many involved. Calvin Harris, then still very much in the ascendency was working with her on what he felt were excellent songs, just to have them rejected. He also complained afterwards that her working method had cost him a lot of money. (One of these offcuts, 'Off And On', was eventually recorded and released by Sophie Ellis Bextor.) But creatively it produced an album that was genuinely all killer and no filler.

To be fair, it’s not like Overpowered wasn’t loved by critics, it enjoys an enviable 82 rating on Metacritic and Pitchfork gave it a glowing 8.0. (The score is fully warranted but it should be pointed out their reviewer claimed: “She's funny, clever, heartbreaking, and strident, the kind of disco singer Dusty Springfield never quite had the abandon to become.” Right. That’ll be the Dusty Springfield who recorded this then. Oh, and this.)

So critics loved it, but what about the general public? The lead eponymous single is absolute dancefloor dynamite - it’s the equivalent of Kylie at her imperial best - and yet, somehow, it still tanked. When the reckoning takes place at the end of days, questions will be asked as to how this was allowed to happen. It stands as yet more proof that we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. In fact 'Let Me Know' (which interpolates the chorus of Tracy Webber’s 'Sure Shot') was the only hit the album produced out of the four singles released.

But something strange has happened to cultural time this century and records simply don’t disappear or age like they used to. An album first released in 1975 would have sounded horrendously out of date on getting reissued in 1987, yet this 2007 long player doesn’t sound any less fresh today than when it first came out. Due to major label disinterest in vinyl as a format a decade or so ago, it was only released as a hyper-limited double LP at the time. The fine reissue label Be With have decided to remedy that and have just put out a luxurious new version on pink and orange vinyl, so there is still plenty of time yet for a public reassessment.

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