Album Review: Roisin Murphy – Hairless Toys

The Breakdown

On Hairless Toys, the unmistakable sound of the old Moloko lays in the background and Roisin Murphy's voice is still effortless and exciting but she has clearly moved on into something much more, as has her writing. If you didn't know better you'd think Roisin had recruited Prince this time, borrowed a little more something from Grace Jones and signed to a seventies Casablanca Records with Parliament as the backing band along with Melvin Whay from Cameo for the Bass-fills.
Play it again Sam

Roisin Murphy will release her third solo album ‘Hairless Toys’ on May 12th, but after nearly eight years since her second album “Overpowered’ reached number twenty in the UK album charts I’m guessing a few of you may be wondering who Roisin is;

Firstly. it’s pronounced Rosheen, like machine, not Roison, like poison or Wassin’ or some other pompous quasi-french-intellectual derivative.
Roisin Murphy was born in Ireland in 1973 and moved to Manchester with her parents in 1985. Roisin means Little Rose which seems pretty accurate. She is beautiful, but possibly not without thorns.
After a shaky few teenage years in the north of England she met Mark Brydon at a party in 1994 using the chat up line ‘Do you like my tight sweater?’. A sound check at Brydons’ Fon studios followed by a couple of dates and hey presto, Moloko were formed and promptly signed to Echo Records, a label formed by Chrysalis in the same year.
Molokos’ debut album ‘Do you like my tight sweater’ was a mixture of funk, trip hop and electronica but the addition of humour in the lyrics separated it from it’s contemporaries. 1994 was the year of trip hop with Massive Attacks Protection and Portisheads Dummy also being released. ‘Do you like my tight sweater’ reached number 92 and stayed there for a week however the first single ‘Fun for me’ did get to number 36 and was included on the soundtrack for the 1997 Batman and Robin Film starring Clooney and Schwarzenegger.

In 1998, Moloko’s second album, “I am not a Doctor”, was released to critical acclaim although it again failed to sell in the millions. However it’s second single, released in early 1999, was to be the turning point for Moloko. On it’s release the single peaked at number 45 in the UK charts, but whilst writing the lyrics and clubbing in NYC, Roisin realised that ‘sing it back’ was a dance track at it’s core. Roisin and Mark originally approached Todd Terry who had just reinvented Everything But the Girl with his remix of ‘Missing’. After dissatisfaction with the Terry mix, the duo persuaded their label to release another version remixed by German DJ Boris Dlugosch. The result became a global dance anthem and charted in 15 countries, got to number one in the US, number two in Canada and number four in the UK. It has since been included on hundreds of compilation albums as well as on further Moloko studio albums.

Now at this point it gets personal. Sometime in 1999/2000 I was in a dance tent, in a field, somewhere in the UK. I’m pretty sure the tent was blue and was possibly at Glastonbury, somewhere between an Underworld and a Travis set but I can’t be entirely sure. I had just got together with the girl of my dreams (now my wife) and I was, without question, in a pretty damn good place.
In all honesty, Leonard Cohen could have been performing, in a bad mood, and I still would have been ecstatic but Moloko were on stage and although pretty much completely captivated by my dance partner (I don’t dance well…it wasn’t my greatest moment and she probably married me despite my moves, not because of them) my eyes, as well as my ears were drawn to the post-coital sighs coming in a contralto range from somewhere deep in the white light above me. Then the lights went out and a clean acoustic guitar made 10,000 people nod approvingly. As Roisin’s effortless, Elaine Page-esque whisper joined the strings, knees began to buckle and as the drums cut in, softer organs began to quiver. Clearly the audience felt it didn’t get any better than this…they were wrong. At the bridge, the tent was plunged into darkness and a single yet powerful strobe light accompanied the Siren’s sighs of ‘sing it back’ for a good five minutes or more, sending chemicals, natural and otherwise, bouncing around their hosts who in turn bounced around the room like it was the end, and the start, of everything…a ‘holy shit’ moment for me, awesome does not do that feeling, or that track justice.

Later in 2000, once the whole Y2K thing had blown over, Moloko released ‘Things to make and do’ which made number 3 in the UK album charts and went platinum (over 600,000 copies for those of you who nod your head when you hear this, but are never sure what it constitutes). The first single, ‘The time is now’ reached number 2 in the UK singles chart and went silver (over 200,000 copies – ditto).
The next two singles, ‘Pure pleasure seeker’ and ‘Indigo’ failed to make as much of an impact and peaked at 21 and 51 in the UK charts although ‘Pure Pleasure Seeker’ remains a club-hedonists favourite to this day. Track 18, the last track of the album was the Boris ‘D’ remix of ‘sing it back’…you had to buy your own strobe (which I would recommend)

Moloko’s final album, ‘Statues’, released in 2003 peaked at Number 18 in the UK, going Silver, and made Number 1 in Belgium. Many of the tracks, if not all, describe the emotional milestones in a relationship, especially a diminishing one, and Roisin and her partner split as their sonic lament was released. They toured the album then sadly Moloko was no more.

Two years later in 2005, much to the delight of her fans around the world, Roisin released ‘Ruby Blue’. Working with producer Matthew Herbert, known for taking (sonic) samples from everyday objects (organic and inanimate) to produce electronic dance music, Ruby Blue combined Roisin’s unmistakable voice and electronica-based (and bassed) tracks with a little smattering of Jazz and Pop. It peaked at 88 in the UK.
Next came Overpowered in 2007 which met with wide-spread critical acclaim and reached number 20 in the UK charts as well as being nominated for the 2007 Choice Music Prize in Roisin’s native Ireland.
The Observer described it as a ‘All-Killer-No-Filler Electro Disco Gem and again combined elements of the best of her past as well as a new and funky female Prince/Grace Jones fusion.

Since Overpowered, Roisin has become a mother and now returns to us with ‘Hairless Toys’ and she is very welcome back!

The unmistakable sound of the old Moloko lays in the background and Roisins voice is still effortless and exciting but she has clearly moved on into something much more, as has her writing. If you didn’t know better you’d think Roisin had recruited Prince this time, borrowed a little more something from Grace Jones and signed to a seventies Casablanca Records with Parliament as the backing band along with Melvin Whay from Cameo for the Bass-fills. The Jazz syncopation cuts in and out, just to remind you where you are (or have been in my case) and there are also elements of 70’s country and gospel, possibly from Roisins Irish roots.

The opening track ‘gone fishing’, inspired by the film ‘Paris is Burning’, like much of the album, is a clock-tickin’ chill out with Roisin’s ghostly voice drfting through the middle of this imagined Electro-Broadway adaptation of a film about exclusion, persecution and the creation, finally, of a safer place. Follow on Evil-Eyes sees her dropping a couple of octaves and some very definite lyrics along with the welcome return of the funky clean guitar sound and the jangling 80’s synth, whereas the BPM rises for Exploitation, with a pitch bent synth that tells us that all is not well with this story as we are asked ‘who’s exploiting who?’ – more about that in a minute. This is definitely a return to the blue dance tent, wherever it may be with the bridge being the perfect excuse for some extended palinopsia.
‘Uninvited guest’,with it’s slightly off-beat rhythm, has a Kate Bush feel to it and it floats around for a whole six minutes, somewhere between a funk track and a work song…maybe it’s the whistling that makes me sees dwarves on a production line, or maybe it’s just me. Exile see’s another change of tone for this versatile contralto. This slow and rueful song is no dance track, unless they still have last dances at disco’s, which I’m sure they don’t, but it manages to stir something up from somewhere in the early seventies.
Back to the Electro for ‘House of Glass’ with a 130BPM ‘tick’ promising more. The slightly off-kilter organ this time washes over, then kills the beat and the mood changes as a slightly dirtier guitar emphasises the warm, atmospheric lyrics before the beat returns with a two-step that grows into a hectic ending. She is teasing us, and it works.
The title track “Hairless Toys (Gotta Hurt)” conjures up some pretty strange images, even before pressing play…what do these four words make you think off? It’s almost a lullaby and would be the perfect end to the album, had it been the end… but instead thats left to ‘unputdownable’, possibly a reference to parenthood or new relationships. Not the best track on the album but melodic and atmospheric all the same.

Before I finish I should also mention the video for the first single to be released from the album. ‘Exploitation’ stars Roisin as an actress in love with her director. Of the video, which she also directed (no Little Britain Dennis Waterman quotes I promise) Roisin says;
“It’s the story of an actress and a love affair. It’s about selling out, manipulation and exploitation within creative work and in a relationship. It’s ironic because as my own director I’m exploiting myself (if that’s possible) but I am manipulating you.”
Part of the video took me back to the ‘Comfortably Numb’ scene from Pink Floyd’s the Wall when an ‘off his face’ Bob Geldof struggles against the excess and exploitation he is suffering…I almost expected Bob Hoskins to intervene, give Roisin a good shake and start shouting ‘Pinky’ at her.

Manipulate us all you want Roisin…this is a fine comeback!

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