Sometimes an album is immediate, its themes and motives obvious the first time you hit play. Others are more elusive. Irish dance don Róisín Murphy’s last record, 2020’s ‘Róisín Machine’, fell into the former camp. A pandemic-defying collection of joyful disco belters crafted with Sheffield’s DJ Parrot, it landed amid an unlikely revival of the ‘70s genre and shimmied to Number 14 in the UK album chart, becoming her high-charting solo album yet. Its follow-up ‘Hit Parade’, however, is an altogether more slippery affair.
However, the album arrives under a cloud of controversy, with Murphy criticised online in recent weeks for comments about the trans community and her opposition to puberty blockers. The stance felt particularly bruising for the queer core of her fanbase, and at odds with her previous unwavering support of the community. “I should’ve known that I was stepping out of line,” she said in response. “For those of you who are leaving me, or have already left, I understand, I really do, but please know I have loved every one of you.” It has since been reported that her label Ninja Tune are set to continue with the album’s release while not actively promoting it.
Like its predecessor, ‘Hit Parade’ emerged from a long-running team-up with an acclaimed underground producer – in this case, German techno wizard DJ Koze. Murphy recorded a couple of tracks for his excellently eccentric 2018 album ‘Knock Knock’ and, perhaps unsurprisingly, considering her own oddball musical tendencies, found a kindred spirit. We’re talking, after all, about the woman who left chart-botherers Moloko to make her 2005 solo debut ‘Ruby Blue’, a supremely weird concoction of crank-jazz and flatulent beats that reportedly featured ‘brass mice’ (us neither).
Album six isn’t quite that weird – indeed, its tongue-in-cheek title is derived from Koze’s jokey promise that he would take Murphy to the top of the ‘Hit Parade’ – but does operate via its own interior logic, as is perhaps fitting of a record that was pieced together remotely over a number of years. On the one hand, this is accessible alt-pop that drifts from gorgeous, featherweight soul (early single ‘CooCool’) to intoxicating dancefloor euphoria (‘Free Will’) and crackly electro balladry (‘The Universe’).
On the other, it’s punctuated by in-joke skits such as ‘Crazy Ants Surprise’, which sees Murphy play a disco-damaged party monster: “We wanted a certain DJ and the DJ wasn’t there and we were, like, ‘Oh, this is not what we were, like, signed up for…?’” This complex puzzle of a record is also studded with subtle allusions to mortality, a motif Murphy has said was influenced by her late father, who sadly died from Parkinson’s Disease after it was completed.
That emotionally charged theme comes to the fore with standout track ‘Fader’, a truly transcendent big beat weepie on which Murphy recounts the defiant mantra: “Off to meet my maker / When I’m good and ready”. It’s a line that perhaps holds the key to ‘Hit Parade’, a playful record imbued with a sense of mystery and occasional glimpses of autobiography, slowly revealing itself as the cracked mirror image of ‘Róisín Machine’’s bruised optimism.
- Release date: September 8
- Record label: Nina Tune