PHOTO CREDIT: Casper Sejersen
The track, Narcissus, is available from:
8th November, 2019
Mickey Murphy’s Daughter Limited/Loaded Records Limited
I normally ensure I review a different artist each week…
but, having been hooked by Róisín Murphy’s single, Incapable, earlier in the year, I have looked out and asked when another track is coming. Our prayers have been answered and, whilst I will review a new artist on Sunday, I want to revisit Murphy and her special brew. I shall try not to repeat too much from my previous review but, this time around, I want to talk about Disco and good vibes; that mixture of potent beats and a sadder subject matter when it comes to creating something incredible; why Róisín Murphy is not only a vital role model and voice of today but is also endlessly entertaining; a bit about teasers and the way artists structure their music releases; some mention of next year and why Murphy could well be a big fixture of the festival circuit – and what 2020 might hold in store for the legend. If you are my age (in your thirties), your first exposure to Murphy would have been through Moloko. Moloko formed in Sheffield in the 1990s and, although Murphy is from Arklow in Ireland, she and Mark Brydon crafted this incredible career and produced some of the best and most memorable music of the ‘90s. There are a lot of bands who start off and can own a decade and then, years down the line, the music changes and softens. There is not that adaption and sense of evolution that makes them shine and pervade at a different time. It is interesting seeing these iconic artists continue to make music through time and noticing how they alter. One might expect a post-Moloko Murphy to change tact and head in a new direction, but that is not really the case. Look at her solo albums so far – Ruby Blue (2005), Overpowered (2007); Hairless Toys (2015) and Take Her Up to Monto (2017) – and there is this continuous sense of growth and exploration. I will cover this later but what I love about Murphy’s music is the fact she continues to liven up the scene.
She can drop these bangers and classic cuts that delight us and, just when we need another hit, she is back with another track! The fact Murphy has been recording music for decades and seems to improve with time acts as inspiration and impetus for musicians. I know Róisín Murphy is hardly knocking at Death’s door, but there is this sense of expectation and limitation imposed upon artists, especially women, when they get to a certain age. That may sound insulting, but that I mean is that there is still this ideal that suggests artists are at their most relevant and worthy when they are young and hip; when they put out music that is quite accessible and commercial. Murphy is not only one of the most characterful and energising artists on the scene; she is also someone who sounds much more progressive and current than anyone else. I do think there are wide swathes of music that have grown pretty dull and formulaic. I think Murphy is a role model, because she does not conform or rest on her laurels. She could easily have put out a modern-day version of her Moloko work or followed the mainstream when it comes to what’s trending and turning heads. Instead, here is an artist who is always looking to see where the next gem will come from. Róisín Murphy is a songwriter who puts her passion and heart into the music and can somehow release these songs that stay in the head for ages. There are artists who release nuanced and memorable songs time and time again, yet few can reach the powers and heights of Murphy. I also love how she is pretty funny and down to earth. A lot of artists are either quite distant or they can be a bit too serious on social media. Murphy is always funny, quick to communicate with her followers and, I have it on good authority, she sports a range of fascinating and unique outfits when she hits the stage. There are few as fun as her and, at a time when we need joy and brightness, I think Murphy is a definite tonic.
The year is almost through, but Murphy is not slowing anytime soon and, with a new track out in the ether, she will get more demand for live performances and, maybe, an album. I will move on, but I want to bring in an interview from earlier in the year, where she spoke about her career progression and how she manages to endure and remain right at the top of her game:
“Of course, the industry has changed since that initial release 12 years ago. Reflecting on what happened in the following years after Overpowered’s release, Roisin touches on the financial crash of 2007 and how it had an impact on the industry, as well as herself. “EMI actually fell apart straight away after we put the record out, the whole thing ended,” she says. “Now everything has become compartmentalised. For an artist like me, there’s more options in terms of staying independent, and being able to just sort of do deals for specific projects in mind. I’ve done that for a little while and that’s been quite good in a way. Certainly creatively very good because whatever I want to do, I just go ahead and do it.”
This artistic freedom and sheer drive that Roisin exudes is something that’s helped her stay on top form throughout the years. “I don’t think there’s a secret to longevity, but I think my secret is just the people I work with, the fact that I can just change everything on every project by changing who I collaborate with.” She says, “The music is always the beginning of everything, while I’m a very visual artist and I make the videos and concept the art, deep, deep, deep, the music remains the very centre of it all. It’s the seed of everything”.
It is interesting to read that Murphy works in a visual way. I guess a lot of artists do but, in some ways, she already has a video imagined before writing a song, so she can work that way. That is interesting. I can imagine Murphy happening about a hook and then, before you know it, she is off to the races and already plotting a video – she is a talented and original director.
Before I go, actually, I have found proof that, indeed, Murphy’s costumes and styles are like nothing else out there. She spoke with Quintessentially this year and was asked about her sense of style:
“You’re also known for your love of fashion. Where does that come from?
Róisín: My mum is a very glamorous and beautiful woman. People used to stop her in Dublin and ask for her autograph – they thought she was a famous actress. I used to watch movies with my mum, black-and-white films back-to-back, and then draw the dresses with her after. A lot of my childhood fantasies involved dresses and clothes and things I was going to get when I grew up. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been fascinated with the bridge between music and fashion. I’m not from a posh background but we were a very aspirational family.
My nana was always quite a matriarch and glamorous in her way too, with her red lipstick and fur coats. She ran a couple of businesses and was a big part of my childhood.
I was a total fantasist. I used to like to dress up like a Chinese lady and sit in my bedroom window in Ireland, waving to people as they went by in their cars. I also used to dress up as a ghost.
You’ve worn some incredible outfits in your time.
Róisín: The most dangerous outfit I ever wore was a Viktor & Rolf dress that was a lighting rig and a sound system! You’d wear it by having a tight steel bodice, and from that, these struts held the lighting rig above your head and the sound system around you. And then the dress clipped on around it. They put me on some high street, and it was windy that day, and the dress was like a sail!”
I digress…but I think it is good to paint a full picture of an artist who is fascinating and contains many layers. I might circle back to the looks of Róisín Murphy in the conclusion of this review but, pushing forward, I want to take a moment to talk about the way songs are presented today. Murphy is someone who started out at in a time when artists might rely solely on radio to get their music out there. They put out a single and, when it comes to album promotion, you’d either have magazine adverts, radio promotion or interviews. Now, with the Internet driving promotion, artists can utilise social media in their own way.
I am not normally a fan of teasers when we are awaiting songs, but Róisín Murphy sort of hits the right balance. When she was in Moloko, she could not have imagined a world that opened her up to a whole new world instantly and made promotion more electronic. This year, Murphy has released a serious of cuts that are not specifically for an album or E.P. Maybe we will see an album next year, but there are no firm plans or announcements at the moment. To transition from Take Her Up to Monto, Murphy has given us these effusive tracks that are dizzying and personal. Murphy knows just how hard it is to maintain a music career in these times. I am not sure whether she had an easier time with Moloko and whether the relative lack of the Internet made things easier; it is clear there is a lot of effort required. Teaser clips can be frustratingly inscrutable and vague, but I think artists need to hook people in and provide that excitement, rather than just giving a single over and letting it lay there. What makes the creative and promotional cycle that much more draining is the fact Murphy takes from her own life and is very frank. Last year, she spoke with The 405, where she was asked about her humorous approach to the raw and what it is like balancing all the spinning plates of music:
“You often draw upon humour in your lyrics and visuals to deal with romance and difficulty. Why do you think you’re to this?
My father is a comic genius and he has the best ironic face I’ve seen since Les Dawson. Funny people don’t fuck you over. They are usually very intelligent, it takes a certain amount of intelligence to be witty. Wit is a very sophisticated thing and I’m aiming high. I’m aiming at sophistication in the lyrics. Humour is very good for describing things that fall between emotions. It’s on the outskirts of all those things. It helps me describe things that are complicated. When there’s moments of real sadness in humorous things, that’s when it really gets you. It’s just who I am and the way I look at things.
What is the hardest part about it?
Everything is hard. It’s not just the music, every single part of it is difficult. Putting the tour together, making the videos, keeping up on social media, there are millions of things I’m trying to catch up on. I’ve been getting up at 7am, I’ve got children, and I’m going to bed at 11pm every day for weeks, months un-end. I don’t see the point, you know? That’s me today, speak to me tomorrow it could be different”.
When one tries to put themselves in the shoes of an artist like Róisín Murphy, then they can start to appreciate the work and effort needed to simply see one song through from conception to completion. There is the aspect of conceiving a song and seeing it come to fruition. Now, artists are expected to keep active on social media and throw in teasers and posts; they have to knock on doors campaigning (in an Internet sense) and there is very little in the way of rest. As adverse to teasers as I am, I think Murphy has perfectly whet the appetite and she has readied people for this new song. I will be reviewing it soon, but this year has been one where she has put together these brilliantly funky songs. I haven’t really talked about the nature of Murphy’s songs and how they hit the mind and body. The ‘sad-banger’ is a sort of music where there is plenty of kick and energy, yet the subject matter might be heart-wrenching or a little more emotional. It is not a new phenomenon. Look at songs like Don’t Go by Yazoo, and you have an anthem that is pretty raw, but it has that enormous sense of movement and catchiness that elevates it to the status of a club banger. My favourite song of this decade, Robyn’s Dancing on My Own, is another classic example. There, we have a song where the heroine watches her lover kiss someone else, as she weaves shapes and is alone on the dancefloor. Róisín Murphy has not always dealt in heartache and longing.
A lot of her solo material has been filled with optimism and, even when Murphy is asking whether she is capable of love, there is a sense that she is using music to work through these concerns and has a positive outlook. All of this makes for one of the most important artists around. Murphy is the constant innovator and leader; she is giving music some of the most uplifting tracks around and, as I will explore in my review, she has not lost her golden touch. I recently put an article out that asked whether a Disco revival next year is the perfect way to lift a world that has gone through its fair share of challenges and dark days lately. Maybe it need not be exactly like it was in the 1970s concerning club culture, the fashion and songs, but I can hear aspects of Disco creeping into modern music and, every time I hear it, I feel like we could do more. I love Disco and think that it is some of the most important music put out in the world. Maybe she would not class her music as Disco – perhaps House or Dance would be closer the mark -, but there is no denying there is a strut and groove in the music of Róisín Murphy that recalls some of the best jams from the 1970s and 1980s. Although Disco’s death was celebrated by some at the end of the 1970s, it has never really gone away, and it is ripe for fresh investigation. A lot of the classic Disco anthems sported a wounded heart – Candi Staton’s Young Hearts Run Free springs to mind -, but that is good in a way. I do prefer the outright positive songs; if there is a relatable and universal sentiment at heart, it can resonate for decades. Murphy’s songs are true to her, and many other people will be able to relate and find strength in her words.
PHOTO CREDIT: Marimekko
I love the way she can produce these fairly tough-going lyrics and team them with a composition that transports you to a club in the 1970s. I can well imagine Murphy setting her own club that encourages people to dress a little while; maybe one that is for mums and dads. I think I heard somewhere that she was thinking of running a club that catered for mums and dads, but I might be misremembering. I do think that 2020 is going to be a great year for Murphy. She has gigs before then in Australia, - and there will be many wondering whether there will be singles coming out or an album. I do think that a lot of the big festivals will have Murphy near the top of their lists. I think we could all do with a big show and something pretty exciting. There are many artists who fit the bill, but you get something truly wonderful with a Róisín Murphy gig. I am not saying she will be playing Glastonbury, but I would be surprised if her name is not in the running. With a run of great singles under her belt this year, there is a lot of momentum in her corner. She is in this exciting phase where anything seems possible. She is one these people that is such a breath of fresh air compared to other artists. Rather than provide rather bland answers and not really display any personality, Murphy has that common touch and honesty. I am not sure what she envisaged from life pre-Moloko, but it seems that fame was not on her agenda:
“Yet Murphy also concedes: "I think maybe, looking back at it, I didn't ever really want to be a pop star and I wouldn't really have suited being a pop star and it would have been extremely frustrating for me. The reason I haven't in inverted commas 'compromised' is because I haven't been compromised by fame. Fame is the most compromising thing of all. The pressure that comes back from a big, big audience is on another level. Because they'll show you straight away if they're not enjoying it".
Like previous Róisín Murphy tracks, there is a long version and a radio edit. Because she is releasing singles, she is putting out these songs that expand and flow. I have listened to the full-length version of Narcissus, but am reviewing the shorter cut. It is no surprise that, even before I start writing my review, I am looking online and there are so many adoring and effusive comments about the song. Murphy is someone who commands a lot of respect and love and one would expect nothing less than a stone-cold banger. The opening wastes no time in getting the groove on! The bass and beats are taut and tight as crap! You are already tapping your feet and moving your body before Murphy comes to the microphone. Rather than slowly build and get us into the mix, Narcissus is a song that starts so fresh and alive. There is this tightness but, when Murphy sings, there is a coolness to the voice that balances against the composition. “Being left, being left…” begins the tale; “Being left with me, being left with me/Narcissus”. I love the way Murphy leads the vocals and then sort of backs herself up – a kind of call-and-response where she chants in the background. Many are comparing Narcissus to an old-school Disco classic, and you can see what they mean! It has that fizz and funkiness that defines the best Disco numbers, yet I am unsure who to compare the song to. Róisín Murphy has her own path and sound, so you get something very true to her, yet there is a sense of the classic and retro to her songs. That is a great thing, because there is so little in the way of spirit and rousing punch right now. With the stomping beat and strings strumming and stirring with potency, you are unable to resist the sheer energy and smile of Narcissus. I am not sure whether Murphy is talking about political figures that sort of look out for themselves or it is about a lover.
This is a sad story, as it is said, and this person is only loving what they hold. Whilst Murphy is letting the words out and having her say, you wonder whether she is still in touch with this person or whether it is a memory. There are not going to be any happy memories or endings; this narcissus is dying and you get this sense that the heroine is trying to wash her hands of the person. The full version opens the song up and allows for more breath and exploration. I am only assessing the shortened equivalent because it is the one that will feature on radio and most people will hear – head to Spotify and YouTube and you can hear the longer cut. I think Narcissus contains some of Murphy’s best lyrics for years. “Narcissus, she’s return into sand/If you fall in love with your reflection” is exquisite in its evocativeness and poetic touch. I am not sure whether Murphy holds ill feeling towards this person of whether she is looking back and providing some calm and measured education. I feel like there is a political component that could be about the wider world and powerful men who hide themselves in high esteem. If we look at the romantic sense, I feel like we are seeing this person who was only concerned with their own feelings and did not consider Murphy. There are some delicious strings that make me think of Chic and Earth, Wind & Fire. One gets this classic gold that bursts through the speakers as, when Murphy sings about this love going, she takes her voice down to its calmest and most serious. Narcissus twists and turns to create this sense of drama and defiance. If there is a finger dancefloor classic this year, then I haven’t heard it. I know Murphy has been captivating with her songs all year, yet she seems to have topped herself on this track! Hifi Sean & Crystal Waters are producing some great Disco, and I think it is them and Róisín Murphy that are truly bringing this sort of sound to the people! I might be wrong, but I am hearing very little in the way of true strut and dance today. I have been excited about this song ever since it was teased online. Not only does it live up to my expectations, but it exceeds them. One of the finest songs of the year, without a doubt!
PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Hemy
I will wrap up but, when first I heard there was a new offering in the wind from the excellent Róisín Murphy, I was not going to be reviewing anything else. Tomorrow will see me cover an artist I have not reviewed before, but I will forgive myself for coming back to this very warming and satisfying well. I hope Murphy gets some time off before Christmas, as she has those Australian tour dates and she is busy pushing her music to the world. She is a legend who has not only survived the industry and its natural pitfalls but somehow grown more committed and amazing. I keep saying how next year will be amazing, and I stand by those words. There are a lot of artists coming through who are indebted to Murphy and are inspired by what she does. When she released albums like Overpowered, critics were branding her as weird; sort of dismissing her because of how she was dressed. The fact that Lady Gaga wore a near-identical outfit shortly after sort of suggests there is one rule for established artists and for the mainstream Pop acts. The music scene does need a bit of a spark when it comes to energy and songs that beckon you in. They need not be overly-happy; a sense of uplift and energy is all we ask. There is a lot of negativity circling, and I feel like music should provide some relief and pleasure against the harder realities of the world. I am glad Róisín Murphy is in the world and providing such colour, wonder and glitter. I love her fashion sense and the fact that she is a giggle; how hard she works and how deep her music is. I want to bring in a final interview snippet. Here, Murphy discusses (in 2018) how she is always looking forward and she is in a fantastically ripe period:
“NL: Is there any kind of artistic tension between making new music, which you obviously love, and working on legacy stuff like album reissues?
RM: It’s all just a massive positive to be honest. I’m in probably the most creative time of my life – I’m creative-directing everything I do, I’m directing videos for other people, I’m pumping out new music and working with all sorts of exciting people who want to work with me. And then in between, I can re-release these records that I’m really proud of. The next thing’s going to be re-releasing all the Moloko albums on vinyl, one by one. So there’s no kind of difficult tension there. I mean, I would say that the idea of doing a Moloko reunion tour or anything like that is totally off the table. Because I just don’t need to do that, and I don’t want to become some kind of heritage act all of a sudden. I feel like, even though I’m a woman of a certain age, my work’s relevant and has traction in the modern world. So what more can I ask for, really?”
It is full steam ahead for Róisín Murphy. If you are not familiar with her solo music, have a look on Spotify and buy her albums. There is nobody in music like her. From her looks to her attitude to the music she is putting out, Murphy is a marvel and an artist who continues to grow and mesmerise. I hope that she continues to make music of the highest order for…
PHOTO CREDIT: MAX&Co.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Hemy
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