“It feels like quite a shock that it was eight years — you know, they do go by, the years, very quickly,” says Róisín Murphy, the Irish singer-songwriter who will release her first album since 2007’s Overpowered next month. Hairless Toys, due out May 12 on Play It Again Sam, is less of a departure from the kinetic electro-pop of the critically lauded Overpowered than a lovably offbeat reintroduction from a veteran artist ready to re-embrace the process of releasing and promoting new music.
“I appreciate it more than I ever did,” Murphy tells Billboard. “I’m very proud that I believed in myself in making this record — there were doubters when we were making the record. There were people saying, ‘Why don’t you make banging dance music? You’re good at that and it’s a very successful kind of music right now.’ To be honest, if I had made a record four or five years ago, that’s probably what I would have done.”
Instead, Hairless Toys offers flashes of Overpowered‘s high-octane dance music while fiddling with quiet electronica, downtempo disco and pulsating soul music that’s no less magnetic than her previous project. “Exploitation” is a chattering sex track that stretches past the nine-minute track, while “Unputdownable” finds Murphy mining a huge country hook out of the track’s techno stardust.
Prior to her solo career, Murphy served as half of the dance duo Moloko, which released four albums between 1995 and 2003. Her debut album, Ruby Blue, was created with house whiz Matthew Herbert in 2005, and 2007’s Overpowered was an explicit attempt at pop domination that received high marks from Pitchfork, BBC Music and The Observer, among others.
Then, Murphy says, “Personal life did come in and take over.” Although the singer-songwriter contributed to projects by Crookers, Mason and Fatboy Slim & David Byrne, the follow-up to Overpowered took a backseat to her first child, a daughter Murphy gave birth to in December 2009. “The years went by so very very quickly,” she says. “There wasn’t really a moment when I felt, ‘This is really the right record for me to make.’ I think I have an instinct of like, the right record comes knocking at my door and says, ‘Want to come out to play?,’ and I go. I didn’t feel that.”
Murphy waded back into the music world last year with Mi Senti, an EP of Italian pop standards she recorded with longtime collaborator Eddie Stevens. Observing Stevens’ progression as a producer — along with working with Murphy on various Moloko albums and her two solo LPs, the British musician has recorded with Freak Power and Zero 7 — was ultimately the catalyst for Murphy’s proper album return; after years of collecting musical phrases and recording voice notes, Murphy began banging out the songs that would shape Hairless Toys with Stevens.
“Sometimes we might … just sit down, [Stevens] at an instrument and me singing with a microphone, and make it up as we go along,” says Murphy. “No matter what you do, you’ve got to look at a blank page sooner or later — you’ve got to look at it and you’ve got to make a mark on that page. It doesn’t matter how you get to that point. You’ve got to do it.”
Although Murphy says that “it’s hard to see beyond” her long-awaited album return, her sessions with Stevens proved productive enough to possibly warrant another full-length. “The fact that I wrote 35 songs with Eddie means that there is another album there,” she says, “and it could be a compendium album to this album, for sure. Within a year you’ll be looking at another album that is a part of this same writing stage — although it may be a very different kind of record, and I hope it is. I think we can pull that off.”
Murphy will be performing a selection of headline shows and festival appearances in Europe this spring and summer, beginning in Manchester on May 12. As for the possibility of a U.S. return — Murphy rarely plays stateside shows, with a costume-filled performance going down in New York in October 2008 — the singer says, “There’s no plan in place at the moment, but if enough people call for it, we’ll be there. Somebody needs to make it happen. Wake them up! Murphy wants to come!”