RePLAY: Roisin Murphy – Overpowered

Roisin Murphy is a shameless, self-confessed diva. Well, the woman who dons Viktor & Rolf couture topped off with a lighting rig to nip out for some bits from the shop is hardly a shrinking violet, eh? But diva isn’t a dirty word to this iconic fashionista. It’s a depiction of female power and strength, something Murphy says is down to the strong influential Irish women in her family. So when the queen of soulful electronica stepped to the fore in 2007 with a solo, all-out “pop” record with EMI, it felt like she wanted to strip every connotation of that word too.

As one half of electronica duo Moloko, Roisin Murphy crafted a back catalogue that resembles your eccentric auntie’s slightly weird dressing up box, except without the whiff of mothballs. Inside there is a veritable mish-mash of wacky delights, drenched in class and style but not completely inaccessible.  Her solo works are no different. We literally want to dress ourselves like a crazy bag lady and bust out our weirdest moves.

On first listen, it’s hard to decide if Overpowered is a stroke of creative greatness or a try-hard major label car crash. But when you spend some time delving into each track and appreciating the production, the lyrics and those knock-out melodies, you’ll hear the complexities and beauty of an album that really gets into its stride by the third or fourth rotation.

Make no mistake, Overpowered is a very grown up pop record and does for the genre what a tin of Fortnum & Mason biscuits do for your tea party credibility. The bar was set beyond the reach of most pop efforts since. Hell, she fobbed off some of the odds and sods that didn’t make the album to the likes of Sophie Ellis Bextor. Here, have it.

But Murphy’s serious approach to creating something she strongly believes in is probably why Overpowered still sounds as fresh and rejuvenated as anything since. A lot of it is down to the timeless influences from heavyweight females such as Donna Summer and Gwen McCrae, which melt delightfully into Murphy’s unique vocals throughout the album.

Modern beats, big production and those unmistakably elegant vocals are met with stonking disco era strings and the plonking 80s piano in Let Me Know (and when you’ve got stonking and plonking together, you know you’re on to a winner). All that’s left is some bonking, but don’t panic because there’s loads of that too – Primitive talks of basic human sexual urges and unashamed girlish paranoia, and gains massive respect for using the term “primordial soup” in the first line.

Elsewhere, You Know Me Better pulses with more energy than we know what to do with, even to this day. And for every doleful (yet wonderful) Scarlet Ribbons, there’s a Movie Star that has storming anthemic pop potential, telling the age old story of a naïve youngster being sold a dream that will never come true. Why Radio 1 didn’t pick that up we’ll never know. Cough.

Some might say that the album is a bit too painfully cool and inaccessible, too aloof, and even perhaps the first generation of hipster-pop. Of course, part of that might be to do with the artwork or the fluorescent orange and pink vinyls. There’s definitely an air of superiority in there… but when you consider the musical calibre of the diva who pieced it together, the shadow Overpowered has cast over the last decade, and the fact that it’s left an entire generation thirsting for a second outing, it’s really quite hard not to let her off.

Nikki Gandy

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RePLAY: Roisin Murphy - Overpowered
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We look back at quite possible the most game-changing pop album of our time: Roisin Murphy - Overpowered
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