Róisín Murphy - Róisín Machine Music Album Reviews

Róisín Murphy - Róisín Machine Music Album Reviews
On her fifth solo album, the Irish singer finds a new role as a dancefloor truth-teller, infusing house and disco epics with thrilling expressions of desire, regret, and self-knowledge.

Over the course of the last 30 years, Róisín Murphy has made enough classics to fill up the Top 40 of a more fabulous world. To paraphrase the one-time announcer of this awful world’s pop countdown, Murphy has kept her couture-shod feet on the ground and kept reaching for the stars—though her idea of a star is more Cosey Fanni Tutti dancing to Sylvester than your average pop idol. The Irish singer-songwriter’s fifth solo album, Róisín Machine, might seem in some ways like the same old song and dance. But it’s done with such impeccable elan that she has turned the old nightlife songbook into a book of revelations.
In Moloko, Murphy’s turn-of-the-century duo of bedroom fiddlers who ended up filling arenas, Murphy distilled awkward hedonism into intoxicants like “Sing It Back” and “Forever More.” Her subsequent solo albums, brilliant as they often were, sometimes felt more like mere representations of charisma, or deployments of charm, than, say, a confession on a dancefloor or finding love in a hopeless place or something you can’t get out of your head. In proper dance-music style, her best tracks often existed only on 12"s, like her 2014 collaboration with Freeform Five, “Leviathan,” a fierce and forthright anthem which should be played instead whenever someone requests “Titanium.” Or the series she made with boompty savant Maurice Fulton, which often sounded like house classics overheard while trapped in an adjacent rubber room.

Machine fills out a recent clutch of 12"s with new tracks, all made with Sheffield legend Parrot, whose work as Sweet Exorcist (with Cabaret Voltaire’s Richard H. Kirk) helped form the character of early Warp records. Here, he raises the electro-industrial psychedelia of Throbbing Gristle and the deeply considered thump of Larrys Levan and Heard into impeccable feats of sonic engineering that wisely never dare to upstage the star of the show.

After a brief prologue to set the stakes—“I will make my own happy ending,” she announces over an opening curtain of strings—the album moves psychogeographically through various dance terrains. It begins, with “Simulation,” at the beginning: the breath (layers of Murphy’s exhalations, pluming like a fog machine) and the beat. (For club kids, a heartbeat isn’t a double thump, it’s a kick and a hi-hat.) “This is a simulation,” she lilts. “This is a lonely illusion/This is my only delusion.” Disco, invented by people whose existence was uncertain, was a way to turn fantasy into fact. Here, Murphy is part Oscar Wilde, praising the artificial as a mask that tells the truth, and part Willy Wonka, all conflicted beckoning. Part riot grrrl, too: “If it’s all on my veins/It’s all in my mind/You don’t get to be unkind!” she declares, like a clarion cry of “Girls to the front!” The dancefloor is a body, Murphy’s own, and she’s too busy blissing to entertain male notions of authenticity, or the dangers their egos might engender.

“Simulation” ends with one of the album’s great builds, which on a good pair of headphones sounds like liftoff and on a behemoth of a soundsystem—at, let’s say, a busy moment of a particularly adult’s-only corner of a queer dancefloor—feels like poppers. Murphy has talked about sequencing Machine as a kind of DJ mix; a traditional one would take off even further from here. Perversely, “Kingdom of Ends” follows, a beatless heater with stacked funk-operatic vocals calling back to The ArchAndroid and P-Funk before it. The chants amass above an ooze of trance, putting to shame the thousands of so-called “deconstructed club” blobs currently clogging up Bandcamp. “This is easier than I expected,” Murphy sneers.

Only then, with an absolute stormer of a disco strut called “Something More,” is the Machine up and running at full steam. “Maybe this could be the last time I feel the strain/Of what it’s like to own everyone and everything/Life just keeps me wanting,” she announces, as if reading out loud, for the first time, a diagnosis of her own condition. The song is a masterclass of ambivalence, with a yearning bridge that settles into the chorus, once aching and now resigned.

The baggy “We Got Together” ricochets Murphy’s hoots and hollers across booming fields, a simple celebration of how tough it can be to maintain a connection. With “Game Changer,” she loosens her grip. It’s a humid pulse, that moment in a DJ set designed for a quick trip to the bar. This is Roísín Murphy, though, so it’s not that easy. The track is somehow in freefall and motionless. Her voice flashes through the air like tableaus caught in mid-strobe: “I thought I knew the way…”; “This is about to get realer….” Words smear. Just as with a slightly inappropriate outfit, or a too-intimate (or intoxicated) conversation, what holds it all together is wit.

“Incapable” is brittle, its Eurodisco rhythm sharpened into snaps and claps. Murphy unloads a history of emotional distance. She knows all about that warm Moroder/Summer swoon: “I get that there’s a sensation/Though I don’t know what it means.” She can’t feel love. “I should try and play my part,” she reproves herself, but alas, all she’s ever felt is a feverish chill. And this is what it sounds like, percussion prickling like goosebumps, when your damage hardens into a visage. She falls through a trapdoor into full disco fever. “Narcissus” marries Greek myth and a dance beat better than Xanadu ever did: Its pools of rippling strings evaporate into prance music for chatterbox Echo and selfie-obsessed Narcissus, characters familiar to anyone who’s ever waited in line for a nightclub powder room.

Disco fuels another gem: “Murphy’s Law,” a shimmering ode to a lack of self-control that she sings in a register as deep as the groove. The song is not a cover of Cheri’s insouciant 1982 boogie standard of the same name, and it is also not “Bad Girls,” though it definitely shares some DNA, but it is as good as either of them. The nerve! And one more: “Jealousy,” shorn of more than half its original 12" length, starts in thrall to that destructive emotion and stays there. “Jealousy!” she chants, as if demanding her own humanity, while the track surmounts a second great buildup, bookending “Simulation” as if to say the real drama is always human. After all the triumphs and tragedies of trying to connect to herself and other people in the dark, she finds a role she was born to play: succinct dancefloor truth-teller, a character smart enough to see the worst about herself and clever enough to make it irresistible. Róisín Murphy aims her tracks at the stars. With Róisín Machine, she’s become one.
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Róisín Murphy - Róisín Machine Music Album Reviews Róisín Murphy - Róisín Machine Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Monday, October 12, 2020 Rating:

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