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Róisín Murphy’s Hit Parade is a magnificent thing, but looks set to be blighted by controversy

"Hit Parade"

Release date: 08 September 2023
Roisin Murphy - Hit Parade cover
04 September 2023, 09:00 Written by Joe Creely

A few weeks ago, when this review was initially written I wrote about how Hit Parade seemed to be the final consolidation of Roisin Murphy’s position as a kind of national treasure, how it felt like a perfect combination of crowd pleasing and experimentation.

Crowd-pleasing is not what Murphy’s done since. After Facebook comments regarding the use of puberty blockers emerged, she brought on an initial wave of controversy and stoked it further by providing what felt like a rather empty non-apology. It’s safe to say the tide has firmly turned. Reports are her label Ninja-tune has ceased promotion for the album, promising to donate its proceeds to trans charities, which has stoked some of the Linehan lot into the only funny part of this story – promising to boycott the label. Heaven forbid the Facebook aunts and uncles start burning their Forest Sword and Actress LPs.

It’s obviously a shame for myriad reasons. Seeing an artist, particularly someone with a massive queer fanbase, negating the experience of the trans community, is heartbreakingly disappointing, particularly at a time in which such anti-trans rhetoric is spreading. It also leaves her record in a strange limbo space. All the more of a shame because of what a great record it is.

After Roisin Machine’s laser-focused take on sweaty basement House, Hit Parade is a sprawling cornucopia of styles and atmospheres. Plenty of this can fall at the feet of DJ Koze, the impish German sonic magpie best known for his stunning 2018 record Knock Knock, who serves as Murphy’s primary collaborator and the variety of work on offer carries the pair’s excitability brilliantly. Take "Fader" for instance, which grows into a sunny, glorious blast of chipmunk soul, Murphy’s and the sampled vocals interplaying beautifully into a rousing victory lap.

"Fader" is a big indicator of the tone of a lot of the record; hopeful, with that evergreen 70s soul lushness that makes things feel instantly timeless. "CooCool" and "The Universe" both feel like classic soul, but with a density, a sense of innumerable elements tugging in different directions to pull the whole thing into some gently unrecognisable shape. ‘The Universe’ in particular, with its reverb-soaked guitar, blown out digitised vocals, and buried strings that could have come straight off a Motown-era Isley Brothers single, has a sunny busyness that feels as much like something off Since I Left You as any traditionally produced pop record.

That said, this approach extends right across the record, leaving nearly every song awash with brilliant little moments. The slow motion throb of opener "Tell Me What Not To Do" trades in lushness for a skeletal, rubbery pulse, but does so in an entrancing fashion. Murphy’s voice, such a bankable, thing that it feels almost unnecessary to comment on, is as strong as ever, as adaptable and slathered in feeling as Koze’s production, and it absolutely centres the song, letting it grow around her into a noisy, gently tense growl. Her voice does exactly the same job on the similarly terrific ‘The House’, distorted and robotised, but providing warmth against the taut as anything guitar chops.

If the record does have a weakness it’s in its back half, where it has a run of fairly straightforward dance tracks, which, after the fluidity and playfulness of style early doors, can’t help but feel a touch cumbersome. They’re by no means duffers, they’ll undoubtedly be great live, but on record they feel a touch flat-footed, never developing with the same unpredictability. That’s not to say they aren’t still full of beautiful little touches, "You Knew’ gives a bit of lyrical darkness to the record with some of Koze’s trademark melancholy brought along in its chords, and the little jabbing synths that arrive in the latter stages of "Can’t Replicate" really work, but these details are fewer and further between than elsewhere on the record, and don’t have the same bulletproof tunes to hang off of.

In the end, what we have is a magnificent record, that looks likely to be sunk by the events surrounding it. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but what remains is a harsh disconnect, between the absolute joy of the record, and the crushing disappointment that surrounds it.

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