Róisín Murphy's fourth album is an ambitious, intoxicating blend of art pop, jazzy cabaret, and cautionary love songs.
Take Her Up to MontoLabel: Play It Again Sam
US Release Date: 2016-07-08
UK Release Date: 2016-07-08
It wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to describe Irish singer/songwriter Róisín Murphy as a cross between Björk, Grace Jones and Grimes. In other words, she’s talented but weird as hell. In the ‘90s, she and then-boyfriend Mark Brydon comprised electronic music duo Moloko. After they broke up (musically and romantically), Murphy forged her own career as a solo artist, releasing a series of arty electro-dance pop albums up to and including last year’s Hairless Toys. Her latest album, Taker Her Up to Monto, was recorded with her longtime collaborator Eddie Stevens during the same sessions as its predecessor. As a result, it feels like a natural sequel, continuing in the same engaging, oddball vibe.
To say that Murphy writes and sings “love songs” is like saying that Sting wrote “Every Breath You Take” with every intention of it being a wedding song slow dance. The songs appear on the surface to be romantically centered, but are almost all couched in sarcasm and irony, masking dark motives and deep fears.
The album’s opener, “Mastermind”, employs rich synthesizers combined with old and new drum machine sounds, wrapping the vocals in a warm groove. “I’ll go with your master plan,” Murphy coos, “I’ll be putty in your hands / You’re the mastermind.” It would be sweet and romantic if it weren’t so creepy and diabolical.
In the next song, “Pretty Gardens”, jazzy cabaret meshes with plenty of technological blips to maintain Murphy’s particular style. The lyrics seem to indicate a vulnerability wherein her character gives in to the person to whom she’s singing, but there’s a dangerous edge to it. She insists her lover take her as she is, while pointing out his dishonesty (“Here I am as you made me / telling barefaced lies / look at me all naked / I let my pretty garden grow wild.”)
The album’s first single, “Ten Miles High”, is probably the most musically accessible track, complete with pop-friendly hooks, but it still has the air of intergalactic art pop. Fitting, since the song concerns a desire to break free of terrestrial trappings. That combination of oblique dreaminess and catchy melodies continues with “Whatever”, a tender ballad with hazy vocals and otherworldly keyboards that slowly builds into some sort of sophisticated pop standard that sounds almost like a long-lost Harry Nilsson outtake.
In lesser hands, the devotion to a technologically rich sound would suppress real emotion, but Murphy finds a way to make the modern stiffness work to her advantage, and she often soars vocally out of the robotics. The album’s centerpiece, the nearly eight-minute “Nervous Sleep”, includes dreamy keyboard figures and slowly unfolding vocals that seem to set a science fiction scene. The lyrics may be the description of a road trip gone wrong, but it could just be a metaphor for the souring of a relationship. Murphy’s lyrics seem to focus on relationships, the more toxic the better.
The album closes with “Sitting and Counting”, a heartfelt, buzzed, jazzy soul ballad that sounds like Nina Simone in outer space. It’s a testament to Murphy’s ambition and restless spirit of experimentation that she can’t just take a gorgeous slow jam and leave it at that -- she’s too good for simple, easy execution. Take Her Up to Monto is Róisín Murphy’s personal statement on love, romance, dance, and technology. May they all live together in electropop harmony.