“I’m actually proud of every record I’ve made and that’s an amazing thing to be able to say,” confesses Róisín Murphy. “Couldn’t pick a favourite. If there’s going to be an ultimate success story with my career it would be that the catalogue’s going to mean something solid in the future.” Róisín Murphy guards over her songwriting career like a lioness protecting its cubs and with good reason. A quick glance, from leftfield downtempo bangers like ‘Party Weirdo’ to Top Of The Pops smashes like ‘The Time Is Now’ and ‘Sing It Back’ with Moloko and a wildly divergent solo career that has flitted joyfully from Italian song to powerhouse tracks like ‘Let Me Know’ means she has stealthily developed into Britain’s most innovative and restless artist.
Murphy’s rising status has been greatly enhanced by her presentational verve. During her Overpowered campaign she fine-tuned a visual language that has since become synonymous with any number of pop divas. Recalling Leigh Bowery’s outlandish and influential looks, Róisín says, “there’s always a ‘club kid’ influence in what I do. It’s obviously in my music and my wonky dancing, and I suppose that’s what singles me out from the more trained, ‘real’ pop stars. With loads of major label money, I was really able to indulge it! I brought in my pal Scott King to creative-direct and he, quite brilliantly, spotted a certain tension. He felt I was this extraordinary creature who had to get on the bus and pick up shopping from Sainsbury’s. I’ve never been famous but I get this a lot: ‘She must be someone!’” This someone is about to deliver her latest album, Róisín Machine, a set that has been quietly gestating for two decades and was ten years in the making.
It’s a collaboration with DJ Parrot – aka Crooked Man – with whom Murphy first worked on a version of La Jones’ ‘Feel Up’ (under the name Spook) in the late 90s. The idea for the album began ten years ago. “Originally we started off like we were making an LP,” recalls Parrot. “Róisín rang up one day and said she wanted to make some house music and off we went. The first tune we did was ‘Simulation’, which we thought was quite good. Unfortunately, nobody else seemed to think so ” Not that that matters to Róisín: “I love that chug, ‘Simulation’ is one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
Steadily, over the following decade, singles trickled out, slowed down by gravity, life and small children, until a tipping point was reached with a punnet of peaches over the past year: ‘Narcissus’ ‘Incapable’ and ‘Murphy’s Law’ that showed the duo at the peak of their powers. Skint, newly rejuvenated by prodigal son Damian Harris, picked up the album and here we are. Added to the familiar tunes are five new songs including the Dalek-funk of ‘We Got Together’ and the anthem-in-waiting ‘Something More’, a collab with NY songstress Amy Douglas. It is, almost literally, an album laden with singles, but also a kind of landscaped world, dubbed and blissed out, the tracks manipulated in order to seamlessly blend together.
Long-time friends from Murphy’s lengthy sojourn in the republic of South Yorkshire, it’s an ideal match, the minimalist house auteur versus the maximalist Murphy personality. While she usually works from home these days (which is how the songs were largely written), Parrot insisted on the final work being completed in his Sheffield lair. “I try to work remotely, but it’s never good enough for him: ‘You’ve gotta come up. All the vocals are pure class on this record, I’m not fucking havin’ that!’” Parrot puts it more succinctly: “It’s good to be in the same studio because we have a laugh, basically.”
“Parrot is able to sit and close his eyes and imagine, he has immense focus,” she explains. “But how he makes them sound like the perfect club records when he’s not been out to a club in 20 years is amazing. It’s so evocative because he knows it inside out; he closes his eyes and he’s there.” Funnily enough, so are we, right now. An album that works perfectly on the home sound system but projects a ‘basement sweatbox’ mood. We can only pray we are on the way to experiencing that sometime soon. Róisín: “I think I’d be heartbroken if I could never get up on stage again and sing.” So would we, so would we.
One of the few joys of the lockdown was Róisín’s YouTube channel, an oasis of Alice In Wonderland antics, club-kid performance art, live vocal performances, with hallucinogenic shape shifting visuals, always offset beautifully by her usual sartorial flair and exhibitionism. More and more Roisin comes across as a performer in full control of the performance and the art. “Everything I do is from the gut,” she says. “I’m always up to something, I’ve been directing videos and art-directing for years. The album is called Róisín Machine because I am a machine. I never stop.”