Róisín Machine: a review and analysis of the new album by Róisín Murphy
Róisín Murphy is constantly one of the most eccentric and interesting female artists of our time. First breaking out onto the scene as one half of the alternative dance duo Moloko. Murphy’s breakup with her partner Mark Brydon led her to pursue a solo career, which began with an electronic-jazz fusion debut Ruby Blue and even ended up in what was supposed to be a blockbuster dance-pop record Overpowered. Murphy has released two albums since then — Hairless Toys and Take Her Up to Monto, both of which saw her adopting more experimental styles and continuing to allow her to express her vanguard artistic sensibilities. Though Murphy has never found the consistent commercial success she so justifiably deserves, the time has been nothing but kind to her art, which continues to stand as a testament as to how ahead of the curve she has always been. By her admission, Róisín Machine has been about ten years in the making, having been assembled with her longtime collaborator Richard Barratt, also known under monikers as DJ Parrot and Crooked Man. During the album’s ten-year gestation, Murphy released one-off singles as early as 2012 that would later come to be part of the album, and she has expressed how special this album is to her as Murphy & Barratt have both known each other for decades since cruising the Sheffield music scene.
The album begins with “Simulation”, an 8-minute sprawling dreamy disco track that slowly unfurls its charms as Murphy invites us to glimpse her wildest dreams, establishing the song as a gateway into the world she inhabits on the album. The track builds up to an ethereal midsection that leads back into its previous groove, embellished with intimate sighs and breaths from Murphy as it seamlessly weaves into the next track. Led by grandiose and ominous synths, “Kingdom of Ends” references philosopher Immanuel Kant as Murphy sings of her boredom with how mundane everyday life is, and the cosmic and spacey production Barratt provides expands upon the existential crisis Murphy is experiencing. The genuinely spooky background vocals do much to flesh out the dark sci-fi vibe of the track, and as the track comes to its end, the throbbing synths speed up to punctuate Murphy’s closing rant, as she is overcome with frustration. On “Something More”, a lively piano riff and dramatic strings assist in providing the wistful background for Murphy to express her dissatisfaction despite having everything. Murphy pours out her yearning and longing over the dub-inflected anthemic production, which feels timely as it speaks to the hollowness listeners are likely feeling throughout the pandemic. “Shellfish Mademoiselle” features a rubbery bassline and handclaps blended with shimmering synths, with a wonky upbeat funk that hearkens back to Murphy’s earlier solo work and her work with Moloko. Murphy finds herself at odds with a lover, letting them know that she won’t conform to their ideas of her as she refuses to allow them to “sentence her to a life without dancing”.
“Incapable” finds Murphy acknowledging that she isn’t heartbroken over the dissolution of her relationship, concerned that she may never have the ability to love someone. Murphy’s delivery comes off as concerned yet disaffected, and the production is a cyclic disco riff that slowly adds in soaring synths that complement the larger-than-life persona Murphy inhabits on the track. “We Got Together” immediately comes across as an immense nightclub floor-filler as Murphy celebrates coming together as one. The booming electroclash production also allows for Murphy to fully assume the role of queen of the dancefloor, sounding commanding and electrifying as she exerts complete control over the dancefloor anthem. “Murphy’s Law” begins with the complete version of the speech she teased at the beginning of the album, expressing her feeling that her story is untold but determined to make her happy ending. Murphy plays upon her surname and titular adage which dictates “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” as she finds herself outgrowing her small town & struggling to get over an ex. The piano-led churning production is simplistic but effervescent, making for an irresistible disco track that features Murphy giving a slightly deeper and soulful vocal performance.
“Game Changer” is a straightforward throwback to 80s synthpop with a looped synth that sounds as if it were crafted by Eurythmics. Here, Murphy has found someone who has shifted her perspective and is mesmerized by how they have transformed everything for her. Barratt’s production doesn’t change too much as to allow for the near-rap delivery Murphy employs, and Murphy brings back the “keep on” refrain from the end of the previous track to keep the album’s connective tissue strong whilst Barratt folds in samples of her wailing to give the song dimension. On “Narcissus”, Murphy casts her love interest in the role of the Greek mythological figure the track is named for and who inspires the track, castigating them for being self-absorbed and begging them for their love, casting herself as the nymph Echo who couldn’t win Narcissus’s love. Murphy growls out the name Narcissus repeatedly in an accusatory tone over the album’s grooviest bassline peppered with guitar licks, making for the album’s undisputedly funkiest cut. Murphy opens “Jealousy” by singing the title almost as an announcement before sliding into a frenetic and funk-filled disco production that could light up any dancefloor. Murphy is in complete control, as she recognizes a dark sensation within her, first refuting then accepting the jealousy she feels and how much her lover occupies her mind. It’s a formidable and energetic finish to the album, serving as the perfect topper to the album with a passionate performance so powerful, it would surely be a sign of madness if one weren’t tempted to dance by the sheer soul Murphy infuses into the track.
Róisín Machine is a fantastic effort from an artist who knows her craft inside and out, and Murphy has found a perfect match in collaborator Richard Barratt. Murphy and Barratt commit to a full-length album experience here, seamlessly mixing tracks so they roll into one another and often keeping the narrative flowing by sewing details of one track into the other. Murphy’s vocal performance is full of emotion and proves why she remains one of the most interesting and skilled artists in dance music, managing to sound timeless and soulful. Murphy charts a variety of emotional experiences throughout the album and does so deftly, weaving in cerebral references to philosophical theories, classic literature, and Greek mythology, offering listeners a chance to immerse themselves in the music and mine the album for the elaborate minutiae Murphy and Barratt bury within the album. It also helps that Murphy sounds at home when she’s dominating the dancefloor, flexing the tricks of the trade she’s picked up over her career but never afraid to unleash a new twist from her sleeve, never allowing for a lull within the record and keeping things refreshing even when referencing standard tropes of the genres she traverses. This album is a chance to witness a fully-formed and spectacular artist in her element as she runs away with what may very well be the best club record of the year.