It's safe to say that Róisín Murphy's given the odd record company exec a sleepless night or two. The woman who got her start in the music industry as the public half of Moloko after propositioning future co-producer Mark Brydon with the immortal line "Do you like my tight sweater?" has confessed in the past to feeling alienated by its mechanics: after leaving EMI post the release of 2007's Overpowered, she then appeared only sporadically during the next five years.
Her absence from the limelight was due to motherhood rather than anything more capricious, but when she returned in 2014 with Mi Senti - an EP of cover versions featuring Italian torch songs from the 70's and 80's - there were probably one or two wry smiles amongst the suits. This was followed in 2015 by Hairless Toys, an exquisitely observed take on dance music for grown ups after which she received a deserved Mercury Prize nomination.
All the material for it was created during a feverish period of five weeks spent with long-time collaborator Eddie Stevens and so fertile were these sessions - spawning 35 demos - that Take Her Up To Monto is a second release based on those raw materials, the finished songs here being either from versions coaxed or totally de-constructed back to life.
It would be lazy to put here that the album's shall we say mercurial qualities begin with its title - Monto is a Dubliner slang for the city's red light district - mainly because that would present only a fraction of the story. Moloko after all were on the fringes of success for years until Boris Dlugosch's remix of Sing It Back transformed Murhpy's career; if there was at least an evolutionary straight line between Overpowered and Hairless Toys in conformity terms, this next chapter is it's Doppelgänger, a record full of playful idiosyncracy that in places treads close to the border with self indulgence.
There are of course relatable moments: opener Mastermind's hip, understated disco is as neatly assembled as it is sophisticated, whilst the lyrical barbs of Romantic Comedy are a sassy counterpoint to it's complex, overloading synth melodies. Elsewhere the line between pretence and imagination is a little more opaque, as the singer's gambolling sense of invention and willingness to challenge her audience pervades, mischievously taking the listener on journeys into what she's described as "dark cabaret".
Without a wicked sense of humour this would be hard for any artist to pull off, but referring to her herself anatomically on Pretty Garden - you'll have to work it out for yourselves - at least tells us that not everything here is meant to be taken seriously. We still have that voice of course too, a wavering, jazzy croon which even when slightly over stretched on the Bossanova of Lip Service sounds like petals falling on water. It's a quality many will find familiar, which perversely is probably why she refuses to exploit it much afterward. In fact, much of Take Her Up To Monto's remainder diverges consciously it seems from any sort of script, with experimentation instead of post-club comedown the dominant theme. On the drowsy ballad Whatever Murphy nestles in cooing lo-fi, whilst the near eight minutes of Nervous Sleep are curiously shapeless and closer Sleeping And Counting's refracted melancholy sounds like a child's music box as the princess slowly stops turning.
This is a record which doubtless its creator will feel totally comfortable in, one however that will require an open mind, dedication and a lot of love from even the loyalist of fans before it's veneer of art for art's sake is stripped away. To be admired for thumbing her nose at the low road, Róisín Murphy remains obstinately at the end of the rainbow, much no doubt to the relief of a former boss or two.
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