Robert J. Ballantyne
Mainstream stardom has long-eluded left-field Irish pop star Róisín Murphy, despite the transcendent quality of her work. Her most recent album, Róisín Machine, continues her forward-thinking electronic music explorations.
Murphy was once part of Moloko, a UK-based act that released four albums and scored three top 10 UK singles between 1995-2003. After Moloko broke up in 2003, Murphy went solo and has defined her career as a fearless pop star — oscillating from major label diva (2007’s Overpowered) to self-produced, Mercury Prize-nominated critical darling (2015’s Hairless Toys). In between, she’s collaborated with numerous artists and EDM producers as a featured vocalist.
All of this musical diversity makes it hard to pin down her best work — there’s simply so much brilliance — so I’ve decided to exclude her work with Moloko in this list to include only her solo work and featured artist collaborations.
#10 “Wonderland” (2001)
A track that’s made for Shazam, Murphy was featured in this side project with producers Nellee Hooper and Fabien Waltmann, known as The Psychedelic Waltons. This deliriously fun disco-house song may be relatively obscure today, but still reached the UK top 40, charting at #37.
#9 “Incapable” (2019)
“Never had a broken heart / Am I incapable of love?” asks Murphy in this post-disco throwback. Oscillating between icy and vulnerable, it’s always a pleasure when Murphy’s eccentricities meld with her stellar pop sensibilities as they do in “Incapable.”
#8 “Simulation” (2012)
Like a deep house revival of Donna Summer’s orgasmic “Love to Love You Baby,” Murphy sighs and slurs her way through the beguiling “Simulation.” Wisely, this one-off single has been revived for her 2020 album, Róisín Machine.
#7 “Never Enough (Chocolate Puma Remix)” (2001)
German DJ and producer Boris Dlugosch remixed Moloko’s “Sing It Back” and took it to #4 on the UK Singles Chart. As a thank you, Moloko co-produced “Never Enough” and featured Murphy on vocals. It was another hit and charted at #16 in the UK. Fiercely melodic, it’s clear that the song was written to chart in a way that is unlike most of Murphy’s and Moloko’s work. The piano-house remix by Chocolate Puma adds even more momentum to the song and it quickly became a club classic. Twelve years later, the Chocolate Puma remix’s legacy was recognized with a re-release and 2013 update.
#6 “Sow Into You” (2005)
In her first solo album, Ruby Blue, Murphy teamed with Matthew Herbert, a dance producer who uses sounds from everyday items to produce his beats. Think the clank of wooden spoons and silverware forming a rhythm track. As a critic from The Observer noted, this single from the album rides the line between “magic” and “madness.”
#5 “Exploitation” (2015)
“Who’s exploiting who?” asks Murphy in her lead single for Hairless Toys. “Exploitation” is a nine-minute opus of whispered sexuality and aloof come-ons that dissolve into a dissonant soundscape of pads and grooves. The abridged single version represents only part of the off-beat pop brilliance that is the full track.
#4 “Royal T” (2010)
Murphy goes completely gonzo on her feature performance in Crookers’ stomping electro-house anthem “Royal T.” The track starts with a pleasant verse and straight-forward sounding grooves, but exactly at the minute mark it takes an about-turn. Murphy starts to sing-shout, “Oh! I don’t wanna hear the alarm / You don’t have to use your charm / You don’t have to break my arm” — and it gets more intense from there. Such amazing, fearless work.
#3 “Overpowered” (2007)
Another lead single takes top honours in Murphy’s stellar discography. “Overpowered” eases fans from Murphy’s experimental 2005 Ruby Blue into her big-budget EMI Records pop era. The track’s burbling synths are combined with warped Freudian verses (“These amourant feelings / A cognitive state / Need the love object / To reciprocate”) and blend brilliantly with the brazenly melodic pop bridge and chorus.
#2 “Unputdownable” (2016)
“Unputdownable” is deceptively simple, yet emotionally evocative, ballad to a lover, drawing an analogy between a relationship and the reading of a book. “Well I’m left in confusion / By your epilogue / Where is the conclusion? / A narrative arc?” Murphy sings expectantly. The track then completely stops in the middle, picking up with a lonely, strummed acoustic guitar. The production surprises verse after verse, like the subtext of a great novel. When the song closes with the lyrical refrain “If you’d allow me / To read your mind” and repeats “To read your mind” until its inconclusive end, the song’s ambiguity only solidifies its greatness.
#1 “Let Me Know” (2007)
Murphy goes for pop stardom her way in the highest-charting single from Overpowered (UK #28). “Let me know when you’re lonely babe,” Murphy sings over an interpolation of the classic post-disco groove, “Sure Shot.” A near-perfect pop song that sounds both effortless and irresistible.