The Always Evolving Róisín Murphy Announces a New Album
As one of London’s most iconic venues, the Royal Albert Hall has played host to towering historical figures, from Queen Victoria to Albert Einstein. Last Thursday, it welcomed someone cutting a slightly different figure; namely, a singer in a tubular shiny blue Rick Owens dress and a velvet hat the shape of an upside-down ice cream cone, toting a silver inflatable alien under one arm.
That impossibly glamorous (and just the right amount of weird) presence was Róisín Murphy, your favorite pop star’s favorite pop star. Murphy played—to a sold-out house of 5,000-plus rowdy fans—a wide-ranging set, covering everything from her breakout hits with her former band, Moloko, in the late ’90s, to a handful of tracks from her fifth solo record, Róisín Machine. The latter received some of the most effusive reviews of her career when it debuted in 2020 and has led to a new wave of fans discovering this eternally beloved doyenne of British dance music.
“You have to pinch yourself,” Murphy says of the concert. “It’s a beautiful venue, for starters, and then, such a wonderful crowd. Honestly, I don’t take anything for granted because I work very hard for things.”
Turns out Murphy has spent the past few years working very hard on one thing in particular: her upcoming sixth album, Hit Parade, arriving September 8. Where Róisín Machine served as a kind of overview of one facet of Murphy’s career—her role as a dance-floor siren, all velvety vocals and thunderous house and disco beats—Hit Parade speaks to her wonkier, more surrealist side, a sound she honed with her sole collaborator on the album, DJ Koze. The first single, “CooCool,” dropped in May: A misty-eyed ode to falling in love as birds sing around you, it sounds like something that might have soundtracked a Disney princess walking through the woods (if the animators were on acid, anyway). This week, Murphy released the equally fantastic “The Universe,” which interpolates “Row Row Row Your Boat” over breezy electric guitars and arrives with artwork that shows Murphy’s disembodied head on a platform, mouth stretched to Cronenbergian proportions.
Yet Murphy is never just odd for the sake of being odd. What brings it all to life, strangely enough, is its sincerity. Many of the album’s lyrics hinge on a wide-eyed wonder at everything that surrounds us—from the flora and fauna of the natural world to the more metaphorical butterflies of falling in love—tinged with occasional, tantalizing glimmers of melancholy and musings on mortality. “I think the lyric-writing tells a story from start to finish—not that anyone fucking cares about lyrics,” she says with a chuckle. “I realize the futility of my pursuit. But I persist.”
There’s plenty of Murphy’s wicked humor too, most notably in the motley cast of characters she inhabits within the album; in her asides on “The Universe,” for instance, she channels a ditzy Valley Girl accent that emerged from a long-standing impression Murphy likes to do of a generic Hollywood PR person. Murphy recently dipped her toe into acting for the first time, appearing as a witch in the Netflix fantasy series The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself. Did that inform her willingness to adopt a few different guises across the record? “At the beginning of my career, that was what it all was,” she says. “In the first Moloko songs, I was always talking or acting, putting on accents, and not really singing. So, I did get signed to a record company before I actually sang. That’s always been there: I’m a natural mimic, and I think that’s very close to singing.”
For Murphy, these LARP-ier moments relate more to the world-building instincts behind her masterful visuals, from the flamboyant couture in greasy-spoon cafés for Overpowered, to the hi-vis jacket, skyscraper-construction chic of Take Her Up to Monto. If it feels a little more chaotic this time around, she’s just applying it to the more eclectic spirit of Hit Parade. “The album is like a universe all of its own, you know?” Murphy continues. “You dive in there, and there are various planets and things going on and places to visit.” Is that why she chose to introduce the record to her audiences with some of the grandest and most maximalist concerts of her career last week, despite only having released one song? “It is maximal, the record, I think that’s true,” she says, before adding, “But I’ve always tended to bring a lot to the party.”
If there’s one thing Murphy knows how to do, after all, it’s to make a concert—even in a venue as storied (and occasionally stuffy) as the Royal Albert Hall—feel like a party. Strutting on stage last week, holding a GoPro camera trained on her face, the feed from which projected through trippy filters onto an enormous screen behind her, Murphy bobbed her shoulders in a shiny silver spacesuit by the emerging Spanish designer Arturo Obegero. But not for long: an array of hats, gloves, capes, and various other knickknacks were placed around the stage for Murphy to switch up her look.
It is by now almost Murphy’s signature to change her looks through the course of a show. (This writer remembers seeing her perform on the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe a few years back, where she flounced around to her disco bangers in everything from a jester’s hat to an enormous Elizabethan ruff.) “Honestly, though, I can’t do that forever,” she adds. “People better lap that shit up while they can because I certainly ain’t gonna do it for the rest of my life.” During interludes at the Royal Albert Hall, she cycled through a kaleidoscope of looks by everyone from Valentino to Walter Van Beirendonck, and Comme des Garçons to up-and-comer Kitty Joseph over the course of her two hours on stage. “From the outside, it looks very chaotic,” she says. “But that’s the only way I can do it.”
Of course, there is a method to the madness. Costumes are hardly an afterthought for Murphy—you only need to watch her twirl a cape at an opportune moment or wiggle her hat around along with her vocals to know that—but they’re usually the final piece of the puzzle. “I do tend to micromanage,” Murphy says of her her approach to putting a live show together. “But I’m a very big believer in trying to do one small thing at a time and that it all adds up in the end.”
“I spent the whole day before the Manchester show in the dressing room, and it was the most insane day anyone’s ever seen,” she continues. “We had things delivered from all corners of the world, and boxes and bags and 15 suitcases and God knows how many hats and shoes and everything else. And then, we had a couple of mates from Manchester that just sat there, totally bemused by this complete and utter chaos that was going on. But it comes together when it has to.”
The most essential part of her getting-ready process, it turns out, is one of her most beloved roadies. “I have Simon, who tours with me as my…wardrobe mistress, let’s say. He’s burly and he has long hair and he wears roadie gear and he’s really, really strong, which is ultimately what I need. I don’t need someone to style me, I just need someone who really cares about me—and who is really fucking strong. Because putting them boots on, pulling them dresses up and down, it ain’t easy. He’s good at steaming now; I’ve taught him a lot of things.”
With Hit Parade arriving towards the end of the year, this recent cluster of shows represents the opening of a new chapter, with a busy summer ahead of festival dates and a just-announced gig at London’s Alexandra Palace in 2024. Nearly three decades into her career, it will be the biggest show she’s ever done. “I don’t think people should ever expect anything from me, except maybe to be surprised,” she says. “There’ll be a time when I don’t do touring in the old-fashioned way, but I might do something else. I don’t know what will be. Maybe it will be a hologram or something. Or an AI version of myself I send out on tour.” Doesn’t that sound a little terrifying? “No more terrifying than the real thing,” she says, with a wink.
Originally Appeared on Vogue
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