"The music is wild and free to go where it damm well where likes, the older I get the more I realise there's zero point in struggling against the natural flow of things. Eddie Stevens and I have been making glorious fools of ourselves on stage and exploring musical worlds together for 20 years. The main ingredient in both these records is intimacy and it’s that intimacy that allows for such creative freedom. "
“Monto (Take Her Up To Monto)” is an Irish folk song, written in 1958, later popularised by the Dubliners – it's etched into Róisín Murphy's musical being. “Me Da used to sing it to me when we were walking down the street – still does actually – because it's got a walking tempo, and I still sing it to myself when I'm walking along. So it's a little postmodern fragment, a bit of history. But also it's me. It's my way of saying 'How're ya lads? Here I am. Warts and all, this is me.' It's me and my rhythm. It's very simple, really – but very complicated.”
Very simple but very complicated: that's Murphy all over. Someone who writes songs that hit you direct in the pleasure centres, but possessed of unending, disconcerting complexities that unfold out of every phrase and snippet the minute you begin to look into them. The Take her up to Monto album has got everything she's always done – flights of disco fancy, dark cabaret, the sonorities of classic house and electronica, the joy and heartbreak of pure pop, torch song drama – but seen afresh, made into new, strange shapes.
It's an album which crackles with wild invention, daring you to work out its puzzles and paradoxes, throwing out whipcrack surprises just as you think you've got it worked out. In songs like “Ten Miles High,” “Romantic Comedy and “Mastermind” it's got hooks as instant and addictive as anything in her career, Moloko included, but they're part of some of her most architecturally magnificent song structures yet, and woven together with a complete and vivid visual and narrative world too: this is Murphy going further out in all directions than ever before.
This album is part of an ongoing process of re-emergence that began with the Italian language Mi Senti EP and then the Hairless Toys album. Mi Senti was made in 2014 with former Moloko keyboardist and musical director Eddie Stevens and Murphy's partner Sebastiano Properzi. Murphy took time out after her 2007 album Overpowered and this was the first time that she had been back in the studio for a major project – rather than just lending vocals to someone else's record "I suppose Mi Senti seemed a bit of a curve ball, certain people expressed exasperation at my choice to sing Italian songs, like I was deliberately trying challenge or test people's patience when nothing could be further from my mind. In my mind Mi Senti was a love letter to my creative life, a thing of joy and the most natural thing for me to do at that point. It was technically challenging and highly invigorating" – it was like she'd never been away. After Mi Senti , she and Stevens returned to the studio for a five week session, working production-line style, after which they ended up with easily two albums' worth of songs: what would become both Toys and Take Her…
There was then a deliberate process of sorting, with the subtler songs ending up on ..Toys, as if to ease the audience in to this new phase of Murphy's career with a rather more gentle taster, before hitting them full force with what would become Take Her... That's not to say ..Toys was exactly an easy listening album, mind you. It's certainly smooth sultry – just look at the poise and elegance of Murphy's performance of the autobiographical “House of Glass” from that album at the 2015 Mercury Awards (for which the album was nominated) – it too had all kinds of turbulent undercurrents and dark emergent themes. It was clear that this is no longer the mischievous funk of Moloko, or the concise pop structures of her 2000s solo albums Ruby Blue and Overpowered, but something altogether more expansive and involved.
Between ..Toys and Take Her.., Murphy and Stevens left some of the remaining songs almost as they'd initially demoed them, and radically reworked others as the character of the album became clearer. Some, like “Mastermind”, the breathless disco epic that opens Take Her.., got a boost in scope from Murphy's rekindled love of kicking out the jams and the high drama of live performance thanks to touring ..Toys. But something else changed between the two records, too, something that would cement the new way that Murphy saw her creative process and the roles she inhabits as an artist: she became a film-maker. Or perhaps, she muses, she always was one. She has always been a natural dramatist and her expression has been visual as much as musical "as a child I fully expected to grow up to be a visual artist, the singing I just took for granted as everyone around me sang. So right from the beginning of Moloko I have embraced any opportunity to express that visual sensibility".
The simultaneously baffling, beautiful and hilarious video for Toys lead single “Exploitation” was her directorial debut, and from there, she has gone through “a hell of a steep learning curve” making films for each single that follows. “Each video was a study-fest,” she says, “each one was about me watching the greats, copying how they set each shot up, it was truly like going to film school. The first one was influenced by Cassavete, the second was Bergman, the third was Fassbender... with all sorts of bits from other people I was studying finding their way through into it too. Looking back at Hairless Toys I see all sorts retrospectively, but it feels like the a esthetic was frozen time of no-time – was it in the eighties? Nineties? Seventies? Some lost place in the memory of my generation?”
But for Take Her the visual language has changed "This will be very different though, less reference, a more aggressively modern aesthetic, I hope people are ready for that. Its about the London that I live in, it's a lot about architecture, it's about building and the future coming, its about here! it's a bit fizzier and more present tense, irreverent, with guerilla filming, montage and crazy shit. I hope it's a realism that makes you feel good about being alive”. It's telling that as Murphy starts to describe it, the words come spilling out: the enthusiasm, optimism and excitement of her artistic vision and her intense love of the process are palpable. And it's this that defines the Róisín Murphy of 2016. "Ive taken on the creative direction across two campaigns now and it's tough, it's hard work and a lot of responsibility, yet all I can say is the last couple of years, going around the city with my big phone and its camera, taking pictures of everything, watching, writing: this has been the happiest time of my life and that's all that matters"
And this is what we get on Take her up to Monto. Not just a personal document, not just a cutting loose and letting free of the wilder songwriting instincts from her and Stevens's sessions – but a statement of the artist finding her feet in all the media she inhabits. "It's true I've taken a lot of creative control but I'd be loathe to define where all this is leading , Im not calling myself a film-maker/director/artist or anything like that for the moment. Right now I'm a performer who is fascinated with performance on any platform, I'll just continue to explore."
The studio, the live stage and the world of costume and fashion – these were all Murphy's natural habitats from the beginning of Moloko. But now with Murphy bravely taking creative control the vision is more complete, one clear voice. You don't have to be a psychoanalyst to see the significance of the leap from Toys's meditative, memory-laden “frozen time of no-time” and Take Her's art being “about now, about building and the future coming.” Murphy has never been an artist to stand still, and every record she's ever made has been a creative year zero in some sense – but even by these standards, this is a record overflowing with possibility. “Here I am,” it says, simple as you like, yet complicated enough to spend lifetimes decoding. “Here I am.”