If I live to be as old as Betty White, I’ll probably never understand the secret of success — especially in music. Why are some singers hot, some mid-burner, and some forever trapped in the freezer? Occasionally, it’s pretty obvious why someone becomes a star. Adele comes immediately to mind. If she doesn’t deserve it, I’m not sure who does.
Then there’s someone like Madonna, the eternal superstar. As much as I’ve enjoyed her work over the years, I’ve never really understood why she’s as big as she is. She’s certainly not the most talented female singer on the planet, nor is she the most beautiful and sexy, nor is she the only one with an excellent marketing plan and good collaborators. So why her and not, say, Ireland’s Róisín Murphy, formerly of Moloko and currently MIA solo?
Is it that X factor that I’ve heard so much about, the indescribable thing that either you have or you don’t? Does Madonna have it? The first time I saw her, I didn’t exactly see a star (indeed, I wasn’t really on Team Madonna until 1989’s Like a Prayer, by which point, it was impossible to look at her and not see a star), just some really terrible clothes and too much eyebrow.
I can’t say the same thing about Murphy. I’ve loved her since 1995, when an advance copy of Moloko’s debut album, Do You Like My Tight Sweater?, arrived in the mail at my office at People magazine. To these eyes and ears, she practically screamed “Star!” from the beginning.
And the music was good, too. Moloko — which featured Murphy on vocals and Mark Brydon as Dave Stewart to her Annie Lennox, or Vince Clarke to her Alison Moyet/Andy Bell — had a unique way of merging mainstream and cutting edge while seeming equally dedicated to both, and fashionista-with-an-edge Murphy sold sexy without ever making it seem shallow. The Anglo-Irish duo was electro-pop when it wasn’t cool, or at least not as cool as it is today, locating its heart before Madonna made it beat for the masses with Ray of Light.
(If wishing Murphy were as big as Madonna is aiming a little too high, how about this: Shouldn’t she at least be as big in the UK as Sophie Ellis-Bextor, who has had nine Top 20 singles compared to Murphy’s four, all of which were with Moloko?)
Since going solo with 2005’s Ruby Blue, Murphy, who is as stylish and beautiful as any woman in pop, has kept the qualities that made Moloko so special in tact, while forging a separate musical identity for herself. Unfortunately, new music from her has been all too sporadic, which might partly account for her lack of widespread success. (But then, if her songs were more successful — her biggest UK solo hit, “Let Me Know,” only reached No. 28 — she might feel compelled to release more of them.) Although there have been a few singles and one-off guest appearances on other people’s albums, most recently as the guest vocalist on David Morales‘s “Golden Era,” Murphy hasn’t released a new one of her own since 2007’s Overpowered.
Thankfully, though, she hasn’t been forgotten — at least not as of 2010. Yesterday on an episode of So You Think You Can Dance from that year, one of the contestants did a routine to one of her songs (“Royal T,” her 2010 collaboration with Crookers). Alas, as I watched, I was too busy enjoying the music and thinking about what should have been to even notice the dancer.
7 Great Songs Featuring Róisín Murphy on Vocals
“The Time Is Now” Moloko (from Things to Make and Do)
“Pure Pleasure Seeker” Moloko (from Things to Make and Do)
“Overpowered” Murphy (from Overpowered)
“Primitive” Murphy (from Overpowered)
“Orally Fixated” Roisin Murphy (non-album single)
“Momma’s Place” Murphy (non-album single)
“Royal T” Crookers Featuring Roisin Murphy (from Tons of Friends)