Moloko: Catalogue

The Echo Label

History lesson, folks; read carefully, there’ll be a test at the end:

• “Moloko” means “milk” in Russian; it’s also the bar Alex and his droogs hang out at in A Clockwork Orange.

• “Do You Like My Tight Sweather?” was Moloko singer Roisin Murphy’s pick-up line to Mark Brydon, at a party in Sheffield — it became the title of the duo’s debut album.

• The duo’s tenure lasted roughly as long as Murphy and Brydon’s relationship; both the relationship and the group parted ways in 2002, after touring for Statues.

MolokoSing It Back

Moloko left us with four studio albums and a double CD of remixes. Do You Like My Tight Sweater? was released in 1995, and was the only one of Moloko’s albums to get a proper U.S. release. It’s a passable debut with some interesting songs, interrupted by whimsy (“On My Horsey” and “Dirty Monkey” — you get the idea just from the titles). The follow-up, 1998’s I Am Not a Doctor, was not so much breakthrough as build-upon, increasing the group’s funky synth-pop leanings and allowing Murphy’s sexy, fun persona to shine naturally. It also contains “Sing It Back” — if you only know one Moloko song, that’s probably it. Oddly enough, that song didn’t really catapault the band skyward until house DJ Boris Dlugosch’s remix sparked Ibiza-style euphoria in nightclubs around the world; if you listen to any compilation albums from 1999-2000, Moloko’s standing proudly there, right by OnePhatDeeva’s “In And Out Of My Life” and Alice Deejay’s “Better Off Alone”. More than alongside, even: back in those heady days of commercial, melody-driven house, when it seemed even America could embrace dance music’s all-permissive hedonism, Murphy’s vocal style was a novelty, but her music had more integrity than those quick-grab trance anthems. Amid all this excitement, Moloko quietly dropped their third album, Things To Make And Do. It’s the band’s creative zenith, turning to organic instrumentation and soul influences and finding an irresistible collection of commercial dance-pop. After a remix double album that was more DJ fodder than reward for the casual listener, Moloko’s final effort dropped in 2003. Statues found the group casually extending their sound, though news of the impending break-up seemed to give the record a finality or completeness it doesn’t have on sober listening. Retreating into electronic sounds, sometimes covering Murphy’s voice with an FX-driven sheen, and incorporating more characteristically Latin beats, it’s Murphy feeling her way towards Ruby Blue, finding the possibility of an independent existence but not quite there yet.

All this history drives to one conclusion: Moloko are a singles band. The group never got enough praise from those music listeners and critics who learn about new music by reading articles online, who buy or download a CD without hearing any of the songs. And because the group’s high points are dulled by the filler that makes up a significant proportion of their album work, the idea of Catalogue is well worthwhile. Further, the disc’s execution and selection are impeccable, creating an extremely satisfying, naturally-flowing collection.

MolokoPure Pleasure Seeker [Live @ Glastonbury – 2000]

Given that only one of Moloko’s four studio albums was even released in the States, US listeners have plenty of tunes to on which to catch up, and the catching up — unlike the history quiz that’s coming up, don’t think I forgot about that — is a fun task indeed. “Pure Pleasure Seeker”, from Things To Make And Do, is a perfect example. Built over a dirty disco bassline, plonked out by a funky bass clarinet, Murphy’s voice sinks into the dark, atmosphere-filled sound. When she sighs out “Viva indifference” — a magic moment. “Time Is Now”, which opens the disc, combines Jamiroquai-like emphasis from synth-hits with acoustic guitars (always a great addition to commercial dance tracks; they say: it’s ok, you’re allowed to like this music) and a tune that would make Bob Sinclair proud (it’s a better song than “Love Generation”). “Cannot Contain This” could be remixed into a thoroughly 2006 electro track, with its robot-chorus background and up-and-down synth background.

You would think that Boris Dlugosch’s remix of “Sing It Back” could have appeared here, since it was so instrumental to the band’s success; even as a bonus track tacked on the end, it would have been nice. But if we have to settle for something, the original version is no throwaway — even today, it buzzes with optimism and summer fun, like Modjo’s “Lady” or Spiller’s “Groovejet”.

Another point only really discernable from the juxtaposition of different albums’ tracks is that Roisin Murphy’s voice has changed over the years. Whereas she used to wallow in a breathy sexiness or silly almost-baby-tone, she’s become progressively fuller, more confident and more expressive. It’s most noticeable when you compare early tracks like “Fun For Me” with “Statues”, a sedate and melancholy farewell, a showcase for hard-learned wisdom. We know that expressiveness and insight have already been extended through Ruby Blue; I have no doubt the future will continue to showcase Murphy’s evident talents composing interesting dance- and cabaret-inspired accompaniments to her always arresting voice.

So, to the quiz then. There’s just one question, but it’s a tough one:

• What’s Moloko’s best song?

You won’t find the answer above. Since this compilation truly is a catalogue of wonderful songs without a clear “best”, you may just have to pick up a copy and decide for yourself.

MolokoThe Time Is Now [Live with Jools Holland Big Band]

RATING 8 / 10