“Come on, I’m ready. I’m really ready! Let’s have it…” runs the sample that opens Roisin Murphy’s sixth solo album Hit Parade. The former Moloko frontwoman, who turned 50 last month, is clearly eager to hit the world stage with some of the most euphorically danceable music she’s ever made.
The clip – one of many scattered throughout the release – turns out to be a snippet of an answerphone message she left for the record’s eccentric German producer, DJ Koze, whose renowned perfectionism regularly gets in the way of him completing tracks. It’s clear now that it was time well spent; he was crafting songs that shape-shift like balearic sunsets over the water: golden soul seeping into flecks of funk-guitar cloud, shimmering streaks of disco, and warm, fluid splashes of guitar with chilly undercurrents of sorrow, confusion, confrontation and defiance.
What Murphy clearly wasn’t ready for was wading into the minefield of 21st century gender politics. She had an angry outburst about the use of puberty blockers – “big pharma laughing all the way to the bank… little mixed-up kids are vulnerable and need to be protected” – on her private Facebook page, which was screenshotted and widely shared.
Her views came as a shock to many of her LGBT+ fans. They seemed to clash with Murphy’s sonic and visual art, which has often been a fiery beacon of self-determination and empowerment. She quickly apologised “for being the reason for this eruption of damaging and potentially dangerous social-media fire and brimstone” and retreated back into her burrow. I had been looking forward to interviewing Murphy about this record, but all press engagements were immediately cancelled. So, I can’t ask her about the identity of the “Crazy Ants” that she sampled, or which JG Ballard story inspired “The House”, or the murky exploration of illness that bubbles up through the grimy synths and tense cymbals of “Eureka”. It’s a huge shame because I bet she’s got fascinating tales to tell. Still, the mysteries exude a powerful magnetism.
When she was growing up in the Manchester indie-club scene, Murphy was ashamed of her clean vocals: she thought she sounded like West End star Elaine Paige. Eventually she learnt to celebrate the swooping clarity of her voice on hits like “Sing it Back”. In her sixth decade, she can do all sorts with those pipes and Hit Parade finds Murphy celebrating her many textures.
So, she growls and purrs her way over the shadowy pulse of “What Not To Do”. She finds her inner dove to coo-coo through the mature and breezy romance of “CooCool” as she makes herself amenable to “any silly season”. She digs into a grittier vibe over the brass, psychedelic soul of “The Universe” and squares her jaw to reframe the U2 lyric “Did I ever disappoint you?” on “Hurtz So Bad” as synths whirr and hover around her like irritable flying saucers. She repeatedly spits “f***sake” in response to various frustrations on “The House” and then howls in full soul diva mode, “I don’t wanna be alone” across a raw funk guitar before she is vocodered into a robot (fitting with the album artwork) to intone “It’s psychoactive!” There’s a comforting resignation to the tone she finds on the comedown sway of “Fader” and a fierceness to the Irish snap with which she demands “take some kind of responsibility” on the seven-minute club track “You Knew”.
The album ends with the strange shimmer “Eureka”. It runs: “The doctor said he took one look at me/ Told me he could see there was something there/ And I can’t even say what the surgeon’s gonna take away/ And I don’t really care anyway…” The dark, direct narrative – along with the slimy, rubber band bass – recalls Kate Bush. I love the way Murphy leaves all the messiness swilling around, enigmas unanswered and questions shifting along with their sonic textures. It would be a shame if such a questing artist is cancelled. Murphy’s is a unique, brave voice in music.
‘Hit Parade’ is out on 8 September