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Moloko à go-go: Róisín Murphy at 50

Wondering what the music in that funny sloth dancing on a mattress telly advert is? Don’t be shy, it’s Pure Pleasure Seeker by the now defunct dance duo Moloko. When the Anglo-Irish duo cracked the charts in 1999 with the club classic Sing It Back many assumptions were made about the female singer. Not least that she was just the pretty vocal vehicle for some button-pushing producer (Sheffield’s Mark Brydon), and a Limey one at that. But the Wicklow-born, Manchester-raised Róisín Murphy has proved herself to be not only an exceptional and eccentric songwriter, but something of an all-compassing musical chameleon. 

After a quartet of coruscating leftfield LPs with Brydon that spawned hits like The Time Is Now (2000) and Familiar Feeling (2003), the Murphy one has gone on to build a wonderfully unruly and individualist solo career. Her post-modern take on ornate glam-pop pushes through disco house, latin and trip-hop to the darker ends of electronica. Zig-zagging synth-pop melodies and captivating emotive bangers are cornerstones of her cutting-edge contemporary pop sound. Whatever the genre bending she’s always worn her influences (early Eurythmics, Portishead) on her sleeve, not to mention some pretty outré haute couture costumes. 

Indeed, when I caught her concert at London’s Koko club in 2007 she dipped into a hanging rail full of outlandish garments between every single song. Beat that Lady Gaga! (Funnily enough, it’s claimed that Róisín believes Gaga openly stole her avant-garde aesthetics, according to our girl’s Twitter. Either way, like an emerald Grace Jones without the Goude stuff, it was Murphy who made herself a go-to style muse who dared to don pieces by out there up and comings long before Vylie, Rihanna and Beyoncé started to experiment with groundbreaking designers. 

Either way, that year’s Overpowered shrugged off the ‘formerly of Moloko’ baggage in glorious fashion. Stuffed with pulsing glitter ball gems, the ambition, style and vision of this album is still awe-inspiring. From the steely title track to the shoulder-shimmying Let Me Know, Murphy set the bar for experimental disco-pop bangers, and was nominated for Eire’s Choice Music Prize. 

There was even a moody reimagining of Bryan Ferry’s Slave To Love to coincide with its use in a Gucci Pour Homme advertising campaign, though plans to issue it as a double A-side 45 with Movie Star never got beyond the promo stage in Europe.

Like Grace or Gaga, it’s Róisín’s distinctive powerhouse voice that elevates her above less innovative contemporaries. Following on from 2020’s rapturously received Roisin Machine, CooCool, The Universe and Fader – the trio of 2023 singles preceding the release of her sixth solo LP due in September – amply demonstrate her place in the pop firmament: from heartbroken whisper to diva holler, she’s the 21st-century Dusty Springfield in a tight sweater leaving a generation of young wannabes nipping at her disco-dancing heels.

Happy half-century ma’am. Come on!

Steve Pafford

Adapted from Even better than the real thing: 11 Irish Icons that aren’t U2, here

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