When you hit play on Róisín Murphy’s fifth studio album, “Róisín Machine,” you are greeted with the words “I feel my story’s still untold/ But I’ll make my own happy ending.” Murphy said of the lyric, “Every day is a miracle and a blessing and I think, ‘Fuck, I’m still unfolding.’ The longer it goes on, the stronger the whole narrative gets.”
The lyric appears in several places throughout the album and gives us her idea of self-development. In “Kingdom of Ends,” over a simple, dark synthy beat, she says “Keep waking up every morning/Thinking ‘What the hell am I doing?’/ Keep going on, keep going onwards.” In the next song, “Something More,” she plays the role of someone who has it all but yearns for something better: “A crown upon my head, young lovers in my bed/But I want something more.”
After almost three decades in the music industry, bouncing across countless ideas and genres, the need to expand is still present in Murphy’s music. In “Something More,” she admits, “Life just keeps me wanting.” Her experimental songwriting and producing reached a peak with 2007’s “Overpowered,” an eclectic album full of electro-pop dance floor fillers that highlighted her eccentricity. Here, on “Róisín Machine,” the music is stripped back and drawn out, but still has the essence of her personality through these slow disco and house anthems.
Her artistic evolution is similar to that of Swedish musician Robyn, who after achieving critical acclaim with “Body Talk,” a powerful electronic album that proved pop music is not as brainless as people make it out to be, slowed it down on 2018’s glittery “Honey.” The album traded high-energy hooks for cerebral, slow dance music. Both women, on their respective slower albums, hit a groove that shows this is where they are meant to be.
Murphy’s “Simulation” and “Kingdom of Ends,” the opening two tracks, do not satisfy the itch of a catchy chorus and danceable chords. However, the album hits its stride in the second half, starting with “Shellfish Mademoiselle,” the most upbeat of the record so far. She sings, “Oh but I can be a selfish mademoiselle/You gave me the name, I’m wearing it well.” The next track, “Incapable,” sounds like the soundtrack to a Mario Kart level, if it were three times as slow. Boasting the lyrics, “Never had a broken heart/Am I incapable of love?” it is the most personal song on the tracklist so far.
Listeners get a wake-up call with “We Got Together,” the first song that is explosive from the jump. It is the least descriptive song yet (repeating the title takes up about half the runtime), but the heavy bassline and structure, which previous songs lack, make it a standout. It transitions immediately to “Murphy’s Law,” the highlight of the album. The lyrics to the house and disco song read like a children’s story because of her narrative. Touching on the theorem that says anything that can go wrong will go wrong, she describes, “It’s Murphy’s law, I’m gonna meet you tonight/Just one match could relight the flame/And just when everything is goin’ alright/Murphy’s law gonna strike again.” Talking about previous old flames that could not keep going, Murphy worries, “All my hard work keeps on goin’ down the drain.” The long, shimmery song gives Jessie Ware’s excellent “Spotlight” a run for its money as the top disco revival track of 2020.
“Game Changer” is a wavy, bouncy song about her collaborator and producer, Richard Barratt. About his creative process, she says “You need to know you’re not on your own/You made the love, I’m keeping it going.” “Narcissus,” a swanky up-tempo anthem follows, and its music video is simply Murphy dancing around, having a great time. “Be in love, be in love, be in love with me, Narcissus,” she croons, alluding to the myth of the hunter who fell in love with his own reflection.
After 50 minutes of slow burn, “Jealousy” explodes and closes the show. Best described as a ball of energy, it is similar to her “Overpowered” era, where the quirky instrumentals will get stuck in your head for days. The beat is so catchy and fun, sometimes overshadowing the relationship-driven lyrics: “This is the darker side of a beautiful feeling/ Watching you while you sleep, I’m the one who was dreaming.” The extended version, at 11 minutes long, is fully welcomed as it allows listeners to get the full experience of the masterclass in mixing and dance production on display.
With this album, Murphy plays by her own rules. The strange and sometimes formless lyrics from her “Ruby Blue” days are still here, positioning Murphy as somewhat of a Björk of dance music but far more accessible. Some songs could be a minute or two shorter (“Simulation” and “Kingdom of Ends”) and some are greatly assisted by their extended versions (“Murphy’s Law” and “Jealousy”). On “Róisín Machine,” her creative process fully takes over to make an album that will lurk in your mind for a while.