PHOTO CREDIT: Fraser Taylor
The track, Incapable, is available via:
5th June, 2019
Mickey Murphy’s Daughter Limited/Loaded Records Limited
IN this review...
I get to talk to someone who I have admired for a very long time and not reviewed for a long time. I think the last time I featured Róisín Murphy was when I featured her album, Take Her Up to Monto, for a publication I used to work for. I gave the album four stars and, on Twitter, she wondered what it would take to get a five-star review – given that I gave the album such a glowing and effusive review. To be fair, she had a point: I was honest and generous and it should have been full marks but, as instructed by my editor, five stars are given out for rare occasions. This time around, I have (to some degree) corrected that when assessing her latest single, Incapable. I want to talk about a few things before I get there. First, I will describe the new Murphy’s Law; the way the songwriter has this consistency and is showing other artists how to do things; the showstopper Murphy who, I feel, warrants some British headline attention; the reason we need Murphy to keep producing music; those with true personality in the industry and what comes next for her. The ‘normal’ Murphy’s Law states that, if something can go wrong, then it probably will. That seems to apply to everything our Government is doing right now. In terms of music, there is someone who is getting everything right. Róisín Murphy, I feel, has not dropped a step as a solo artist and always seems to hit these rare heights. I think that, when it comes to producing original and stunning material, there is nobody like Murphy around. She is this incredible creator who ensures everything that she puts out is of the highest standard. Although I have employed some wordplay and there is, so far as I know, no Róisín Murphy’s Law, I think there should be. She is one of the best artists around right now and I cannot think of anyone on her level.
The reason I brought up this subject is because, in music, you do not get this sort of consistency that often. There are some artists who have a good run but, in terms of pushing to new levels and stretching the imagination, Murphy is a rare example. I will move on in a second but look at her previous albums, Take Her Up to Monto (2016) and Hairless Toys (2015). Although I didn’t give the former the full respect it deserves, the album resonated with critics and was a big success. I do wonder whether there will be another album from Murphy coming very soon but one only needs to look at Murphy’s solo career and work with Moloko to see what a body of work she has produced. At a time when there are few big smashes and artists that capture the imagination, Murphy is this ball of fire that keeps releasing these staggering songs. I do think that we need something uplifting in music because, the more you think about it, the more it makes me wonder whether music has become too glum. Thankfully, there is Róisín Murphy who always gives the world these stone-cold smashes. Maybe it is me being dewy-eyed but I do really love what she is doing and it is amazing to see the leaps she takes. There are very few other artists around who can release a series of singles that all have their own personality and voice. That is worth noting when we look at Incapable. Right now, Murphy is putting out singles and, so far as I know, there is no album title revealed yet. One suspects there will be a release very soon but, rather than bow to convention and the usual cycle, we get these great singles from Murphy. There have been a few put out but, up until now, Jacuzzi Rollercoaster was my favourite. Now, with Incapable doing the rounds, I get to cherish another slice of gold.
I was mentioning how, between singles, Murphy changes sound and evolves – and this is highlighted on her latest track. Very few can draw a straight line from the likes of Jacuzzi Rollercoaster and get to Incapable. You know the songs are from the same artists but, in terms of themes and sounds, there is a bit of a leap. Not only that but you have these classics songs that stand in their own right and do not need to be part of an album. I do feel other artists need to look at Róisín Murphy because she is not someone who follows the pack and does what is expected. I was watching a Top of the Pops special yesterday night that took us back to 1988. I noticed a couple of things from the programme. Not only was the music – Pop/House and Rap – pretty fun and funky but there was this sense of unpredictability and energy. I do feel there are a few songs bubbling about that have a sense of fun but there are not that many. Also, one feels that singles and albums are laboured and there is little sense of mystery. If out Róisín Murphy’s Law dictates that, if things can go right and upbeat then they will; maybe we should also throw in another codification: She will not be prone to the weary promotional cycle and will be able to express herself in a unique way. By that, I mean the songs are not being teased endlessly on social media and they do not have that key ‘impact date’ – the ‘perfect’ moment a song is released so that it makes the biggest mark. No. Murphy seems to take us back to a time when singles were a very important part of the musical landscape and, indeed, there was an element of surprise and joy. Not that music has lost all of that but I do like the fact there are artists who just release singles and want to make these separate works – not necessarily leading to an album or part of some big campaign.
Perhaps this is just me showing my age but I am so glad we have pioneering voices like Murphy’s in the music business. Not only is Róisín Murphy a terrific songwriter who keeps producing these epic hits but, when you see her live, she sort of takes the breath. I have seen photos circulating of her killing Primavera Sound. This is a festival that is very important because of its diversity and sense of equality (more on that later). Murphy was part of this eclectic and wonderful line-up and was a definite standout. In fact, look at her profile page from the Primavera Sound webpage and it sort of describes what you get from her shows:
“Róisín Murphy is a painting. Róisín Murphy is a sculpture. Róisín Murphy is a loud outfit. Róisín is (of course) a song that surprises, disrupts and moves. Róisín is… Art. Pop art, of course. She could limit herself to filling studios with her voice, but she has always wanted to assault our senses in a three dimensional way. The control on all the aspects that makes music an audio-visual artefact has led her to being an icon dressed in cubist fashion, to rolling up her sleeves, and getting behind the camera to direct all her videos from Hairless Toys to the string of new models of disco music that she has released in single format during 2018”.
I am yet to see the great Murphy in the flesh of the live arena but I have seen video footage and read enough reviews to know Murphy is a very special performer. Not only does one get a range of outfits and fashion choices – Murphy does like her clothing and to explore the boundaries – and you always get this arresting visual aspect. Although there is a lot of drama, spritz and the theatrical, at the heart of things, Murphy wants to connect with the audience and get to their hearts. It is clear that she does this and, for that, we are all very thankful. I do feel that songs such as Incapable will sound great performed live – it might have already gotten an outing – and it will be cool seeing it paired with her Moloko work.
Let’s, before, I go on, add a third bullet-point to Róisín Murphy’s Law: we shall have f*ckinhg fun and everyone will join together. Maybe I should put these laws/rules in quotation marks (?) but I do think that, as a performer, Murphy places togetherness and interaction above all else. I have been following Murphy since the early days of Moloko and I have seen this artist grow and expand. I do wonder whether, with performers like her around, she will get that all-important headline slot. Think about all the great work Murphy has put out into the world and how great she is right now. I suspect there is an album coming along soon enough but there is ample material around to justify a Róisín Murphy headline slot. I have long-complained about the lack of women booked when it comes to headlining and, whilst I shall not repeat myself now, look at Murphy and what she has given the world. In a way, getting to a headline stage is like receiving an honour; an acknowledgment that you are at the top of your field. Although Róisín Murphy has yet to step onto the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in the prime slot, I do think that she has warranted that respect. Look at the songs she has under her belt and think about the electricity one gets from her shows. I am sure The Killers and The Cure will put on something pretty good at Glastonbury but I do wonder why she has not been asked to headline. Maybe it is just me getting all angry but I do worry we are ignoring great female artists in place of the same old, boring male acts. If you do get a chance to see Róisín Murphy play, make sure you do. I hold a lot of genuine affection for Murphy because she is one of the hardest-working and nicest people in music. Maybe it is her Irish roots but you get no bulls*it with her: just this open and bright woman who puts her heart on the page and gives the world this magnificent music.
PHOTO CREDIT: @Annadaki
I want to quote from an interview she recently gave with London in Stereo where (the interviewer) mentioned the financial struggle in the industry years ago; how that affected the likes of Murphy and how she has adapted:
“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.”
Driven by her love of music, and constantly evolving through her collaborations, Roisin is a force within the industry, but her adaptability, endurance and humility make her a true icon. As we wrap up, she says, “I love making the music, love the visuals and I love performing. I’m delighted to be able to do this job, I’m so blessed it’s stupid”.
PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Parsons
Adding a penultimate addition to the Róisín Murphy Law and I want to include this: “The personality and spark is not fake: this is the real deal, you see?!”. That sounds like an odd sentence construct – and it might not be proper English – but there is an awful lot of bullsh*t and fakery in music. That might be axiomatic but we still get these fake artists who seem to be all talk and, look under the skin and you get someone very different. Not only is Murphy a consummate and stunning performer and songwriter but she is someone who dazzles and seduces in interviews. I have yet to meet Murphy – I really do need to get out there! – but she is someone who is frank and honest. Instead of practiced answers and this sense of caution, you get an open and engaging artist who gets under the skin. I will leave things there – because I want to review Incapable – but I do recommend that everyone gets behind Róisín Murphy and follows her music. She is a wonderful artist who keeps on surprising and producing music of the highest quality. I expect this to continue for a long time but, before then, she has put out a single that is very different to everything that has come before. Maybe that shouldn’t come as a shock when we look at Murphy’s past but, the more you listen, the more this wonderful number gets into the head. There is so much to love and cherish about Róisín Murphy and I do think that Incapable ranks alongside the best she has put out there. I am not sure what the exact inspiration behind the track is – whether it is culled from real-life experiences – but Incapable is a song that will strike a chord with many people out there. On a very wet and overcast day, it is that burst of energy and sunshine that we could all do with!
I am reviewing the edited version of Incapable – check out the eight-plus-minute version – because, the way I write, you would need a few days spare to get through it all! The opening notes of Incapable gives us this smooth and tense beat with a combination of Disco and Pop. The beat pushes the song forward and there is a catchiness that gets right into the head. It is hard to describe the sensation one gets from the introduction but, as you bed-in, the music makes its way through the veins. Murphy talks about the weather being a bit crap and one senses it is more a metaphor. Maybe things were sunny and hopeful but, in this moment, the conditions have changed and the atmosphere has grown a little cold. It seems like there was this chance for unity and passion but it has been lost. I do think there is this balance of strength and vulnerability in the song. We have someone who knows that love was very close – she talks about this inevitability and natural connection that has somehow been denied – but there is this incapacity. Murphy seems confident on the surface and can tolerate the storm but she does wonder why love misses her shore. I am not sure how the man was who is in her mind (and whether it is fictionalised) but one feels like they are meant to be together. Murphy’s vocals start breathy and slow as she is backed by handclaps and this propulsive groove. Soon enough – by the time the pre-chorus arrives – the energy kicks up and there is this sense of denial. She might never have had a heart broken and been lost because, in some ways, she has never given her heart fully. I don’t know. If she is not involved that deeply and in love then does that mean her heart is protected and she will never feel this pain? Murphy wants to connect and give her heart; get over this blasé sense of detachment and actually give her all.
Whereas a lot of artists would talk about personal limitations and deep questions with dour resignation and moody music, Murphy manages to elicit a genuine sense of hope. She does ponder some big questions – whether she is incapable of loving someone – but there is this need to find answers rather than wallow in a sense of defeat. Backed by the always-present and ready composition behind her (that seems to get more intoxicating and influential as time goes on), Murphy is looking inside herself and probing. I am not certain whether this time around there was a near-miss and a few nights of passion but, when it comes to transitioning from lust to a full-blown commitment, there is something holding her back. Maybe we have all been there but, rather than move on and chalk it down to one of these things, Murphy sees a pattern emerging. Is she someone who does not want to be too open with another and feels unworthy? Maybe. I do think there is this final straw where she does not want to make the same mistakes or, at the very least, discover direction and a reason behind her lack of commitment. One of the most interesting lyrical clashes is where Murphy says how she has never had a broken heart but, at same time, never been available and committed. Is the fear of getting her heart broken the real reason she does not want to dedicate herself to a deep relationship? One can feel real gravity and meaning in the words (even though, I believe, Murphy is in a committed and happy relationship right now); a need to stop this cycle that is bringing her down. Murphy has balanced a very hard-hitting and personal foreground with a background that keeps the mood buoyant but never cheapens the seriousness of the words. Look at the cover art of Incapable and, aside from some truly awesome hair, I get the impression of a heroine from the 1980s who has been on the town and looking for connection.
She has this confidence and sass but, when it comes to connection and longevity, she runs away. Maybe Murphy has been hurt by love before so feels that things will go sour if she gives her heart. I t is easy to be swept away by the giddiness of the beats and claps; the rush of the electronics and the way Murphy’s voice opens and flies. If you listen carefully, you can detect so many different emotions working away in the song. I have listened to Incapable several times through and pick up fresh things every time. On the surface, one might think it is simply about being scared to love but I think Murphy has something deeper working away. True, she is not giving her heart truly but I do think there are many reasons why commitment is so difficult. Maybe there has been this hurt before and men letting her down. I think she wants to have a sense of freedom that a relationship doesn’t offer and there is that need for a bit of control and separation. Perhaps being too open and deep is scary and getting too heavy with someone threatens a degree of stability. One has their theories and reasons but I do feel Incapable is a song that means different things to different people. Not only are the lyrics engaging and fascinating but you cannot help move to the alluring and wonderful composition. It is this wonderfully rich and motivating thing that gets the body moving and will put a smile on the lips. The version I have been reviewing (the edited, radio version) is great but one gets fresh experiences with the longer edition. In any case, Incapable is another solid-gold offering from the always-wonderful Róisín Murphy. I am always in awe of her music and do not feel there is anyone out there who can compete. We definitely need to see and hear more from her – I do wonder whether an album is not too far away. The weather might be bad today but one blast of Incapable eradicates the clouds and raises the temperature. I do hope Murphy has received the answers she needs and has managed to find some happiness and peace.
I am not sure whether Róisín Murphy is releasing another single soon but, as we can add a final line to Róisín Murphy’s Law – you never know what you are going to get – I do think there will be a lot bubbling up. Incapable is the sound of a woman who is hitting a new peak and exploring fresh directions. Keep your eyes on her social media pages because I am sure there will be some movement very soon. I do really love what she does (if I haven’t said that enough?!) and it is great to have her in music. I do know that Murphy is busy with gigs and promotion right now and I wonder whether, when all this cools down, we will get a record. My eagerness is a reaction to what is out in the industry at the moment and how there is a Róisín Murphy-shaped hole. She has this balance of sounds that nobody else can provide; a sense of bang and spark that cannot fail to impress and a charm that is all hers alone. Let us end this review because, one suspects, I have gone on for a bit long. I do hope that I have covered as much ground as possible and, if you are new to Róisín Murphy, then you have a bit more information. When you have done listening to Incapable (again and again), make sure you dig back through the archives and unearth as much of Murphy’s gold as you can. From the earliest seeds of Moloko through to the alluring magic of Incapable, it is clear there is nobody like Róisín Murphy around. So many people have thrown love her way over the past couple of weeks because of her new track and the magic summoned at Primavera Sound. I do feel that a Róisín Murphy headline slot at Glastonbury is overdue and, if there are plans for an album, it will definitely be hotly-anticipated. Long may her reign continue because, in a changing and tense world, Murphy does give us something special and cathartic. She is this artist that does not follow templates and lets her own voice sing loud. I do hope she will forgive me for short-changing her regarding Take Her Up to Monto but, when it comes to Incapable, I think I have redressed the balance. If you want to hold dear a songwriter who can lift the mood, make you think and get in the bones then look no further than the epic Róisín Murphy. She is a truly amazing artist and someone, I hope, who will be around for many more years to come. As I close this review, Incapable is still bouncing around my head and, in fact, there is a longer version available online that I recommend people listen to as well. I am off to spin Incapable one more time but, as today is pretty crap in terms of the weather, why don’t you do yourself a favour and play a song that is guaranteed to…
PUT you in a better mood.
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