Róisín Murphy “Hairless Toys”
Something really really weird would have to happen so that I could hold Róisín Marie Murphy in anything else than high regards. Something of the magnitude of “Green Pornos” by Isabella Rossellini maybe. Although even these grotesque animal sex films did not manage to mar my general appreciation for Rossellini. But Róisín Murphy doesn’t do anything silly of that sort anyways, but finally releases a new album – even though the word “finally” sends a wrong message. Murphy’s supporters do not jostle or whine like little cry babies. They wait patiently and they know that their queen will let them know when it is time.
And the time has come: twenty years after the release of the first Moloko album and eight years after her second solo album “Overpowered” with which she could have become the raucous queen of all dance floors of the universe, but then didn’t. And that was a good thing, since she can pretty much do anything now with her status as an artist who is just a little bit too smart, conscious of her own style and sophisticated, to become “the next big thing”.
For instance an album like “Hairless Toys”, which is not so much a direct follow-up to “Overpowered”. Not at all actually. There are for example only two “genuine” dance-tracks on it (“Exploitation” and “Evil Eyes”) and they might not be suitable for every kind of club out there, but merely because of their extensive lyrics and risky experimental beats (even though “Evil Eyes” is pretty straight forward).
On that note: with the track that was premiered prior to the release of the album, “Gone Fishing”, Murphy pays tribute to a bygone era: in 1990, Jennie Livingston made a documentary about the New York ballroom-scene; Murphy in turn creates a monument to dancers and film makers of a long lost time. The other tracks, of which there are eight in total, all of them pretty long, are a testament to Murphy’s very libertarian artistic self-conception that some describe as eccentric: she takes the liberties to change the tempo and style of a piece, which has been introduced as piano ballad, half-way through (“House of Glass”) or just ponders for a couple of minutes, completely oblivious to the world around her (“Exile”, “Hairless Toys (Gotta Hurt)”).
“Hairless Toys” is an album that makes do almost entirely without hooks and choruses. It is an album of digressions, both musically and content-wise. It evokes the strangest thoughts and the listener can be very happy about the fact that he is in the same space with the ever-elegant Róisín Murphy and not with Isabella Rossellini dressed up like a prawn.
A few years back, Brian Eno stated in an interview (I believe it was an interview with Intro Magazine, but unfortunately I couldn’t seem to find it online anymore) that trip hop was a genre that started out at its zenith and then quickly faded away. He didn’t give any reasons for that. Was it the sheer power of the deconstructivist approach that was too much or rather the belittling appropriation by the trendy neighbours? Or maybe both? Maybe the gruesome “Underwater Love” by Smoke City already marks the point at which the disturbing gloominess that Portishead and Tricky had brought into the realm of electronic dance music was exchanged in favour of a pseudo-cosy lounge-comfort. On top of that, the problem of music that is built on innovations in sound is that its creators are prone to getting lost in details and losing sight of the big picture. The last remarkable attempts made by the pioneers themselves to repeat their sound excesses at the height of our ever-changing times – “Third” by Portishead and “Heligoland” by Massive Attack – were both conceived after a very revealing extensive musical hiatus.
Róisín Murphy’s album is also released after a break of eight years, during which she was not desperately looking for means of artistic expression, but during which she had children and kept herself busy otherwise. With the ease that resulted from that she now brilliantly returns with the best trip hop record post-trip-hop. By the way, I really don’t want to argue about what exactly this genre is called then, maybe it isn’t really trip hop, strictly speaking. It is however definitely the first of her solo records that connects to the spirit and the movement that Moloko, of whom she was one half, was linked to. And it is by far the most beautiful realisation of an idea of dance music which is too interesting to just be danced to respectively an idea of art music that is too funky to be annoying. Everything sounds extremely warm and great and big. Murphy and her producer are, as you can clearly hear, in love. Maybe also in love with each other, but certainly in love with the details of their production: tiny guitar solos, overly loud synthesisers, meandering electronic piano runs – all of these components are what actually shines on “Hairless Toys”. In between there are minimalistic electronic passages and of course Murphy’s subtly catchy melodies. These melodies rarely ever build up to “proper”. Instead, they fray or are broken off completely. Some of these songs even feature songs within a song – “Unputdownable” consists of two completely disparate components of different tempi that are alternated (refer to “We can work it out” by the Beatles for a mild manifestation of that, to “Plastic Palace People” by Scott Walker for a more drastic form). Not one component is stable in these songs, thankfully the over-all atmosphere also varies, since there is nothing more frustrating about music like this than the listener being forced into a closed-off universe of spheres of permanent high-like quality. On “Hairless Toys” the attractions parade past the listener, captivate, but also release you again. Even the wildest turns in style never seem deliberately designed to come off as crazy. There is not a lot of “what the hell is this?” like with gusts of wind or waves. Listening to this record is like listening to the songs of birds in foreign countries. For those who will take their time to engage with this record, it will be like time stands still altogether.