Róisín Murphy

Overpowered

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Arty, cerebral, and sometimes downright kooky, Róisín Murphy zigs where other British pop singers zag. She's been one of pop's best-kept secrets since Moloko disbanded, edging her way toward a sound that isn't exactly mainstream but will give her the more widespread acclaim she deserves. For her first solo album, Ruby Blue, she collaborated with producer Matthew Herbert, who streamlined her sound into something creative but not gratingly quirky; even though "Rama Lama" ended up on So You Think You Can Dance, of all places, Ruby Blue wasn't quite a smash success. This time, Murphy teamed with Bugz in the Attic's Seiji, Groove Armada's Andy Cato, All Seeing I's Parrott & Dean, and Jimmy Douglass -- all forward-thinking producers, but with more conventionally pop sounds than Herbert's approach. Of course, by the late 2000s, even the most mainstream singles had at least a few unique production flourishes, so while Overpowered is without a doubt Murphy's most straightforward music yet, she hasn't sacrificed much to make it that way. With its sleek beats, bubbling synths, and nagging chorus, "Overpowered" closely resembles a state-of-the-art pop single, but the way Murphy sings of science and oxytocin over a heart-fluttering harp is unmistakably her. The rest of Overpowered follows suit, giving familiar sounds clever twists that will please longtime Murphy fans and win new ones. The effortless "You Know Me Better," "Let Me Know," and "Checkin' on Me" are chilly yet soulful, touching on disco, house, and '80s pop; "Movie Star" is Murphy's spin on Goldfrapp's glossy glam pop (and the only time she seems in danger of being overpowered by someone else's sound on the album). Even though these songs are immaculately crafted, there's plenty of life -- and Murphy's personality -- in them. "Primitive"'s synths and strings flit around like mosquitoes in a swamp as she wails "I need to let you out of your cage," while "Dear Miami"'s deadpan delivery and spare beats make it possibly the frostiest song ever written about global warming. Overpowered often feels less intimate than Ruby Blue, but that's a minor quibble, especially when "Scarlet Ribbons" shows off Murphy's tender side and the outstandingly crisp, bouncy, and sassy "Footprints" and "Body Language" rank with her best songs. Aptly enough for such a pop-focused album, nearly every song on Overpowered sounds like a potential smash hit. Even if this album is a bid for the big time, it's done with such flair that it just underscores what a confident and unique artist Murphy really is.

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