Róisín Murphy ‘Hairless Toys’ (Play It Again Sam)

She’s not playing around with this one. The Irish singer is finally back with her third solo album

Everyone knows Moloko’s ‘Sing It Back’ single. The remix by Boris Dlugosch reached Number One in the US dance charts and hit the Top 10 in the UK. You can play it to someone who wasn’t even born in the spring of 1999 and they will say, “Oh yeah, I know that”.

So everyone’s familiar with Róisín: one half of the Moloko combo with producer Mark Brydon, fashionista, dance diva, solo alternative electronic artist. Whatever her chosen role on any particular day, that vocal tone is guaranteed to be as refreshing as a cold glass of water on a scorching afternoon, as soothing as climbing between crisp cotton sheets. It’s that purity, matched with sleepy synth moods and eerie subtexts, that proves so compelling – and this is the foundation for ‘Hairless Toys’.

Take, for example, Róisín’s new single, ‘Exploitation’, which is currently popping up on a diverse range of radio playlists. It begins slow, with a haunting melody and whispered lyrics, then drifts into an upbeat housey disco shuffle, random sounds bringing an intelligence and musicality to the bravado of the layered synths. The “Who’s exploiting who?” chorus is essentially saying, “And? Is there a problem?” in reply to the tortured artist cliche. Clocking in at over nine minutes long, it could almost be split into three movements, with the second part of the track – when the vocals drop away and the humming synth slips in – filling the room like smoke.

The video for ‘Exploitation’ further hints at Róisín’s avant-garde artistic personality – think Grace Jones, not Madonna – and has been evident in all her solo exploits since Moloko. She worked with electronic producer and academic Matthew Herbert on her first solo project, ‘Ruby Blue’, and the attitude that anything can make a sound and sounds can make stories still resonates in her work. Every track here is pure pop, like the dreamy melody shift in ‘Uninvited Guest’ (“Even at my best / I’m an uninvited guest”) and ‘Evil Eyes’ (Diana Ross, anyone?), yet the album is always experimental. It’s moody (‘Exile’), unpredictable (‘Unputdownable’), insightful (‘House Of Glass’), sometimes even wicked, in a tongue in cheek way.

It all comes together perfectly for ‘Gone Fishing’, a song inspired by the influential US documentary ‘Paris Is Burning’, about how the gay, black clubbing scene in New York emerged out of the need to make a safe space, resulting in an explosion of creativity and flamboyance. Even then, the playfulness is there as the track reels you in – pun intended – with its husky vocals and layers and layers of sound, before breaking into a light, tight, bloody irresistible dance cut at just the right moment.

The original essence of Moloko was never about career success for Róisín: she always wanted to have fun and mess with her music. ‘Hairless Toys’ reflects much of that sense of freedom and pleasure that has been part of her work over the years.

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