Roisin Murphy, for all intents and purposes, is a modern institution. Moloko aside, there are few artistes who have had such a wide-reaching impact with only two solo albums – Overpowered, as we’ve discussed on these pages before, changed the pop landscape more than anyone seems willing to admit. More importantly, she’s done so without ever wilting under the diktats of a commercial spotlight. Figures, given how only after eight years and an Italian-language side project later we get to Hairless Toys.
You’d do well to keep that cavalier rebellion in mind when approaching this new record. Murphy has stated that she’s taken inspiration from drag documentary Paris is Burning – of course, the phrase ‘hairless toy’ might suddenly take on all sorts of connotations with that revelation, but it’s less to do with filth and more to do with the notion of an outsider carving their place in society. A parable of her own career perhaps, whether it’s the Harlequin-in-a-diner sleeve of her last full-length, or opening her new one with six-minute cuts (Gone Fishing) and low-slung house with gibbered incantation on Evil Eyes.
Evil Eyes is one worth lingering on, given how it epitomises Murphy’s disregard for our expectation of form. She still coos gently over a louche beat, switching octaves in the space of bars and having a funk-based middle-eight (if you can even call it that) that sounds like a completely different song. It gears us up for Exploitation, a bare-bones house tale that lasts a gruelling ten minutes, relaying thoughts of ‘freedom, ultimate freedom’. Which is pretty much what this sounds like, throwing in additional flourishes akin to Hercules & Love Affair and the Horse Meat Disco albums rather than anything remotely chart-friendly. That’s not necessarily a good thing.
There isn’t a Let Me Know or You Know Me Better here, that’s for sure. Though Murphy might misfire on Uninvited Guest and Exile (a weird, almost Courtney Love interlude), she still rallies on the hypnotic chamber-echo of House of Glass. An uneven second half culminates in the rousing Unputdownable, which delivers the closest thing to classic RoMo (new name, running with it) you might find across these eight tracks.
Evidently, this isn’t Roisin Murphy’s most accessible record; in fact it is at times isolating in the face of her ambition. If Overpowered was the club night, Hairless Toys is what happens after the lights go on – the immediate comedown, the subdued after-party, the unhurried dance till dawn. While we may feel like we’ve seen all of what Roisin Murphy had to offer in the spotlight, she takes us home and surprises us, and she’s still very much the outsider trying to carve her place. It might not be what we agreed to leave the club with, but by the Christ does it count as one of the more interesting experiences we’ve had.
Hairless Toys by Roisin Murphy can be ordered here.