Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New Music Wednesday: Róisín Murphy

My wife, Briana, and I were watching a show together when the closing song caught my ear.  The slow grooving track turned out to be, "Truth," a single by Handsome Boy Modeling School, a band that was together from 1999 to 2006. However, I quickly discovered that it wasn't Handsome Boy that had grabbed my attention, but a guest singer that the track featured.

Finding new music is often a quest, following one clue to the next in hopes that it will lead you to the prize.  And after such a process, I came across the group Moloko, which dissolved in 2004.  Like numerous bands, Moloko was formed around a romantic relationship.  At the time, the singer, Róisín Murphy, had no experience as a professional vocalist.  Her partner, Mark Brydon, on the other hand, had extensive experience as a musician, composer, arranger, remix artist, producer, and recording engineer.

Releasing full albums between singles between 1995 and 2002 (and singles up to 2005), Brydon and Murphy eventually went their separate ways with Murphy, has pursuing a solo career.  Unfortunately, I don't like her music as a solo artist nearly as well as I enjoy her work with Moloko.  Her voice is still the remarkable contralto that it has always been, but the music itself seems clichéd.  Like many relationships, Moloko was greater than the sum of its parts.  Without Brydon, Murphy has a beautiful voice, but the spirit of the music is missing.  It's not bad - it's just that I've heard so many bands that sound exactly the same way that I couldn't pick any of her tracks out of a crowd.  Murphy's solo career brings to mind a song from a movie that sets the scene but that you don't think about again once the film has ended.  It's a subtle distinction, but one that speaks volumes when you remember that I discovered her as part of a soundtrack where she stood out so clearly that I began this quest to find her music.

While she hasn't released an album since 2007, she has been the featured vocalist on numerous tracks, the most recent being "Boadicea" by Mason.

Moloko - or in this case, Róisín Murphy - isn't the first artist that I've followed who was stronger at the beginning of her career than at the end.  Nor is she the first member of a popular group to find that going solo wasn't a major step forward on their musical path.  However, seeing her appear as the featured vocalist for other artists fills me with hope.  She's strongest as a singer with others creating the framework to show off her voice.  Here's hoping that there's another collaboration in her future that puts her voice squarely in the spotlight once more.

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