The Irish singer has caused quite a stir of late, but what of her new music?
The new album from singer, songwriter and Facebook commenter Róisín Murphy comes at the worst possible time. Hit Parade is for the most part a breezy, groove-laden record that exists in blissful ignorance of its context, specifically an online take from Murphy about puberty blockers and a subsequent apology that has caused some of her promotional events and performances to be cancelled. As well as much consternation, the furore has encouraged some infamously polarising figures to vocally align themselves with her comments, perhaps in the hope of an intentional career pivot, toxifying the situation further. One thing’s for sure: Dani Siciliano would have never done this to us.
Beyond all that though, the record, produced by DJ Koze, ranges from dub to trap, funk to house, all shot through the German’s characteristically playful sound design. In contrast to 2015’s Hairless Toys the songs are generally undisciplined in structure – The Universe with its extended boat metaphor and sticky hook is perhaps the most conventional song here – and unlike 2020’s Róisín Machine they don’t form a continuous tapestry, allowing for the increased stylistic diversity and more tonal shifts. Songs which have a very casual demeanour are home to lightning-in-bottle moments such as the trilling high notes of CooCool’s bridge (“If you show a playful willingness / I would be more than amenable to comply / To some playful silliness / If you just name the time”).
Vocal production plays a large role here, as Murphy is decidedly unafraid to let her voice sound alien or silly. Thus her spoken-word section in You Knew is sped up to a babbling pace then slowed down, while the Auto-Tune on The House gives her singing unpredictable contours and digital artefacts. Adventurous editing near the end of Hurtz So Bad provides one of the album’s best moments, as the frames of sound judder erratically giving her vocals a frantic, flapping effect over a big, grinding bass line and time-stretched synth lead.
This isn’t to say that Hit Parade is all the same level of quality – the record’s main weakness is that some tracks feel too slapdash in nature, as if one evening in the studio was deemed to be enough when another day or two was needed. Opening track What Not To Do can’t seem to work out what it wants to do, as a few sharp lines are undermined by lengthy rambling sections, while Fader features a delicious soul loop, sweet guitar licks but an inappropriate vocal performance.
The final track is thematically interesting, focussing on an operation to remove something unwanted, with surprisingly frank lyrics (“I can’t even say / What the surgeon’s gonna take away / And I don’t really care anyway / Just don’t let me wake when you’re underway / Just cut away like I’m made of clay”) over echoey, metallic pads reminiscent of Oval’s Do While. It sticks out like a sore thumb on a record that’s otherwise fairly light-hearted, and while DJ Koze’s accompaniment is not free of eccentricities – a glitchy chipmunked sample, anyone? – the tone is much more contemplative, especially with the gentle chimes near the end.
It would take a brave pundit to guess what happens next for Róisín Murphy given the build-up to the album. But on its own terms, Hit Parade provides ample demonstration of her inherent and infectious sense of fun and her propensity for eccentric bops, qualities which have served her well across the decades.