A triumphant disco album almost a decade in the making.
If we take "Simulation" as the starting point, then Roisin MachIne predates her two post-hiatus albums—weird, fitful and often brilliant records that she made after a sabbatical spent with her child and mother in rural Ireland. Where those albums hid glitters of mirrorball sheen in knotty songwriting, Roisin Machine is pure, pulsating disco. These songs expand on the quirky, slow-burning dance floor persona she teased with her string of singles produced by Maurice Fulton two years ago, harkening back to her Overpowered glory days with a new approach.
This time, Murphy is backed up DJ Parrot, AKA Crooked Man, whose history stretches back to the Sheffield bleep days that birthed Warp Records. His expertise lends the album an astounding mix, with sharp highs and deep wells of sub-bass. Parrot and Murphy deal in the spiky palette of post-disco, but the way she uses pumping, inspiring dance beats to get across deeply personal, sometimes ridiculous feelings is pure '70s glamour. "Incapable" is a heavy song about being unable to love, because you've never suffered heartbreak before, yet it soars and glides. "I don't know if I can love you," she sings, switching between talk-singing and fluttering highs.
Murphy's voice is a complex instrument, and she's perfected it over the years, inhabiting every nook and cranny of her smoky register. Her voice can drip with irony, like on the clever "Shellfish Mademoiselle," where she excoriates an ex-partner over her own fickleness. But the best example is "Murphy's Law," a punny, self-effacing anthem that could become her signature song. It feels like a Stella's Got Her Groove Back Moment, a song about recognizing your follies and owning them—some your own fault, some down to, well, Murphy's law. This song mixes the intricate songwriting of her past with a freeing dance floor pulse in a way that feels vital and unique. If 2020 is the year of disco throwback—think Dua Lipa, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue—then no one doing it is as sophisticated as Murphy.
The album's retro disco leanings make it feel like she's finding her way back into a sound that once seemed at arm's length. Talking to Pitchfork last year, she highlighted a recent Tolouse Low Trax song, speaking about her reignited love of dance music, in particular the low-tempo chug, which you can hear in tracks like the swirling torch song "Something More."
In an interview with GQ earlier this year, she spoke about recognizing her strong and dedicated gay fanbase, who have rallied around her danciest tracks, including those records with Maurice Fulton. If it weren't so deeply personal, you might call Roisin Murphy a love letter to those same fans. But it is personal, layered with contradiction and feeling. "This is the darker side of a beautiful feeling," Murphy sings on the closer "Jealousy," over a fat, bucking-bronco bassline worthy of the finest Larry Levan remixes. It's a cheeky warning: she's in love you, and she's not usually jealous, but she's gonna go crazy this time. It's contradictory, jubilant and utterly human, all over the album's most uplifting beat. "Jealousy" sounds like she's been through hell and back and now has clarity, even if things aren't perfect.
Depending on how you hear the album, "Jealousy" is either the end of the party or where it gets started. Where Murphy couched much of her past work in twists and turns, coyness and one-liners, Roisin Murphy ends with the unabashed disco anthem she's always had in her, the culmination of a decade working towards something close to perfection. If it's not a happy ending, then it could be a new beginning.