Album Review: Take Her Up to Monto by Roisin Murphy
Very Good, Based on 17 Critics
Drowned In Sound - 90 Based on rating 9/10
There’s a moment very early on in Take Her Up To Monto where Róisín Murphy seems to confess to not living up to her full potential. Surely not. As she herself has recently noted, Murphy is a ‘pop star in her own lunch break’, one who busies away when the mood hits, respectful of the parameters of what is expected from those who dabble in pop revelry, though strict limitations are simply of no interest.
Róisín Murphy has never been your common-or-garden pop star. Ever since her band Moloko (hardly a conventional band themselves) split, Murphy has followed her own path, thinking nothing of ending an eight year hiatus last year with an album called Hairless Toys, a brilliantly strange and startlingly ambitious album with no obvious hit single which still managed to garner a Mercury Prize nomination. Now, just over a year after Hairless Toys, Murphy’s released another album from the same sessions with producer Eddie Stevens.
Written during the same recording sessions, Take Her Up To Monto is the sibling album to Róisín Murphy's Hairless Toys released in 2015. Bound by birth, both were concocted by Murphy and her touring musical director, Eddie Stevens, in their first experience of writing songs together. While the ease of their alchemy was explicit from the idiosyncratic character of Hairless Toys, their second effort brings their writing to different extremes.
Róisín Murphy kept fans waiting nearly a decade for new music when Hairless Toys arrived in 2015, which made the release of Take Her Up to Monto just over a year later all the more surprising. While many artists might coast for a while after releasing a comeback album, this is the kind of unexpected move that's quintessentially Murphy. Recorded during the same five-week sessions that resulted in Hairless Toys, Take Her Up to Monto often feels like that album's counterpart.
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.
Experimental pop artist Róisín Murphy is enchanting listeners all over again with Take Her Up to Monto, recorded during the same sessions that spawned her 2015 album, Hairless Toys. This set of material draws listeners further into her world, in which convention is flipped on its head. "Mastermind" is tense and percussive, Murphy declaring that she is "functioning then as I'm functioning now: way below my potential.
Fans of underrated Irish post-disco singer Roisin Murphy rejoiced last year as she finally concluded a lengthy dry spell with the release of her third record, Hairless Toys, ending eight years of near-silence from Murphy since 2007’s excellent Overpowered. It turns out, however, that the levee really broke when she decided to get back to work, because just one year later Murphy is issuing yet another record of additional songs from those same sessions. Unlike other past examples of second records culled from a previous session, Take Her Up to Monto offers neither a strikingly different type of songs as with Radiohead’s Kid A and Amnesiac, nor are they obviously lesser leftovers like on Jay-Z & R.
“In the pageants they have these different categories for different types of drag. And one of the major types would be realness, and within that they’ll have “executive realness” — you get away with looking like a real business man. Or “college realness,” just looking like a real college kid when you’re not, when you are really flamboyant.
Ahead of a busy summer on the festival circuit, Roisin Murphy’s new studio project edges her further into complex, more innovative landscapes. Last year’s Hairless Toys earned her a Mercury nomination and the same fearless appetite for experimentation she showed there drives this nine-song set. At times it’s like the aural equivalent of wandering round a sparsely-attended fairground; there are echoes of a pop melody drifting alongside an eerie waltz, or the frenzy of a whispered lyric that cuts through somehow, despite its subtlety.
Irish electro-pop star Roisin Murphy returned from an eight-year hiatus with 2015 full-length ‘Hairless Toys’, leading to a Mercury Prize nomination. Fast-forward twelve months and Murphy’s artistic motives and wild inventions take another step on new album ‘Take Her Up To Monto’. A would-be companion to ‘Hairless Toys’, the album institutes Murphy’s partnership with long-term Mokolo producer Eddie Steven; bringing their like-for-like creativeness together to form more unpredictable greatness.
In 2007, Roísín Murphy signed to a major label and released her second solo album, Overpowered. The artwork featured the singer dressed in a variety of insane designer outfits – among them a dress with a lighting rig attached to it – in a succession of mundane settings: a pub, a park, a greasy-spoon cafe. Elsewhere, there was an inexplicable diagram featuring photographs of budgerigars, drawings of fish and quotations from Laurie Anderson, Tammy Wynette, Samuel Beckett and Murphy herself: “I got signed to EMI because I reminded them of Robbie Williams,” she deadpanned.
Róisín Murphy is no stranger to innovative, enthralling pop sounds. From her haunting ballad “Ramalama (Bang Bang)” to the 2007 musical time capsule “Overpowered”, Murphy adds new surprises to her sound with each successive album. That trend continues with Take Her Up to Monto, the Irish singer incorporating a surprising, refreshing array of genres and influences.
Róisín Murphy, “Take Her Up to Monto” (Play It Again Sam). Last year this Irish artist earned a Mercury Prize nomination for “Hairless Toys,” which served as a reminder of the former vocalist for trip-hop duo Moloko’s power and aesthetic. Her new album is even better, a curious ….
Let us be done lamenting Róisín Murphy’s “inexplicable” evasion of commercial popularity over her two-decade career. Faced with a 2000s mainstream that loudly sided with the dinner-table joys of American Idol, Adele, and garden-variety indie fodder over the combative arrogance of Kanye and the seductive traumas of Lana etc, Murphy’s exhibitionist self-regard and visual expenditures-without-return never really stood a chance (Lady Gaga’s watered-down imitation, after all, only lasted a few years). Where Gaga, Adele, and Simon Cowell were/are all on some level fundamentally oriented toward “consumer taste” (which is to say, the complacent comforts of selfhood), Murphy’s only ever allegiance has been to her uncanny ability to turn herself on: to new worlds, new identities, new spaces for aesthetic/affective production.
Róisín Murphy has been on something of a winning streak: her last LP, Hairless Toys, garnered her a nomination for the Mercury Prize. Inspired by Paris is Burning, the iconic documentary on the underground ball culture of 80s New York, the LP sparkled with the sounds of a golden age of house and echoed both the joy and the tragedy of this era of counter-cultural sexual liberation, driven by queer and trans communities of color. Though similar in its sound, Take Her Up to Monto draws inspiration from very different sources.
Roísín Murphy 'Take Her Up To Monto' (Play It Again Sam)Roísín Murphy returns with another reminder of why she has more charm, chutzpah and ideas than most of her peers put together. After last year’s Mercury Prize-nominated ‘Hairless Toys’, Murphy and her musical comrade Eddie Stevens travel to the dark heart of electronic pop with ‘Take Her Up To Monto’. As ever, her lyrics are delivered with rapier precision: scabrous, witty and self-deprecating, you can’t help but smile when she sings “It’s cruel to make you feel guilty when I let my pretty garden grow wild” on the experimental ‘Pretty Gardens’.
Love is a complicated topic often treated simplistically in pop music. Leave it to Róisín Murphy to make a complicated-sounding album about this complicated topic but without totally abandoning the foundation - sturdy melodies - of good pop music. The London-based Irish pop star's fifth solo album is full of stylistic diversions, restless percussion and flights into cabaret theatricality and spoken word.