Despite how easily she could slip into the mainstream if she so felt the need, Róisín Murphy never seems to enjoy being popular. As far back as Moloko, we all know and love ‘Sing It Back’ and ‘The Time Is Now’, but most probably couldn’t name another song from any of their four LPs. As a solo artist, Ruby Blue was a cacophonous joy, while 2007’s Overpowered remains one of the best pop albums of the century. In the eight years since, she’s appeared on tracks for David Morales, Fatboy Slim and Tony Christie amongst others, released an EP entirely in Italian, dropped a few teaser tracks (check out the ode to masturbation ‘Simulation’), and even hinted that she may never record another full record. To that end, here is album number three, which Murphy has stated is inspired by drag-queen documentary Paris Is Burning. The themes and comparisons are definitely there if you want to look for them, but mostly this is Roisin returning to what Roisin does best; making dance-pop music that sounds like nothing else out there right now.
Anyone hoping for a return to pre-party sound-tracking days of Overpowered is going to be painfully disappointed; this has got to be the biggest tempo shift since Goldfrapp switched from Supernature to Seventh Tree. It’s still technically a “dance album”, but not as we know it – the middle ground between Bjork and Giorgio Moroder. Even the opening track ‘Gone Fishing’ is a bit of a misdirection; the clattering drums and echoed glassy synths would be fully at home in the most hipster of hipster lounges, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another track that would play so well in such a social setting. Album closer ‘Unputdownable’ is the only true return to something you might call radio-friendly, a slowly building electro-ballad that results in an almost country & western chorus.
Hairless Toys really could care less about being loved by all, content with its mass consumption – perhaps that Paris Is Burning simile is nowhere more evident than in this fact – as Murphy and her producer Eddie Stevens (best known for his work with Zero 7) shed their sonic skin from track to track, and sometimes even several times within the same song. Most of them come in around the six minute mark, while first single ‘Exploitation’ goes as far as nine and half minutes, which switches up it sound so often and so dramatically that it could’ve easily been cut up into three or four different songs and nobody would be the wiser. There is a tense sexuality and longing to be found throughout, especially on ‘House Of Glass’ (“You can see right through / You can see what people do / There’s no place to hide / When you’re lit from the inside”) and the title track with Murphy’s barely there, muffled and breathy delivery, while ‘Evil Eyes’ manages to sound both upbeat and sinister simultaneously.
The kind of album you’d expect to hear accompanying a particularly oblique modern art exhibition, Hairless Toys is Murphy once again taking a road less travelled, purposefully recognizing today’s pop trends and making a sharp right turn before she gets anywhere near them. This is pure, barely filtered creativity, for better or worse. In this case, much MUCH better than we usually get from our disco queens.