s Moloko’s career progressed—and it’s easy to forget they had three UK Top 10 singles including “The Time Is Now,” agonisingly stranded at #2 behind Sporty Spice in 2000—their songwriting became stronger and stronger, occasionally at the expensive of the kinky but warm quirks of Róisín Murphy’s extremely expressive voice.
Ruby Blue happily represents something of a midpoint between the downright oddity of Moloko’s early albums—when they were erroneously lumped in with the post-trip-hop hopeless cases—and the mix of disco sensibility and wrenching balladry of their swansong, 2003’s underappreciated Statues. The album collects together eleven of the twelve songs released on the three limited-edition Sequins EPs—the track “Love In The Making” being the only exclusive.
If occasionally some of the more disco-influenced—in structure if not precisely in texture—songs on her first solo album sound as if they’re begging for her ex-bandmate’s brassy arrangements, a few listens reveal Matthew Herbert’s production to be muted but exquisitely pop—particularly in his arrangement of the backing vocals, subsequent listens, particularly using headphones, being repaid with subtle nuances coming to the fore.
The opening three songs demonstrate this well, melding his inventive arrangements with her relatively accessible melodies—“Leaving The City” is cyclical and romantic, “Sinking Feeling” combines an infectious clicking beat with deep ominous rumblings beneath the surface, while “The Night Of The Dancing Flame” is a more straightforwardly up-tempo jazz-esque track livened up by a nimble melody.
As far as instant keepers go, “Sow Into You” and the single “If We’re In Love” make for the most obvious points of entry; the former’s bounding, organic disco being the nearest thing on offer to a “The Time Is Now”-esque crossover, and the latter has an easy, carefree groove, soulful delivery and a catchy, repetitive chorus. Likewise, the onomatopoeic chorus of “Ramalama (Bang Bang)” would have fit on Moloko’s first album without sounding remotely out of place.
The more ambitious, expansive songs work as well; the six-minute Northern Soul cum disco torch of “Dear Diary,” buried between the two poppiest tracks, is a delight, Róisín’s voice at its airiest and most wistful—having had two years to get over her romantic and professional split with former Moloko collaborator Mark Brydon has given her voice a new optimism and warmth—over a lush production replete with brass, flute, and harpsichord.
If there’s a weak spot, it may be the penultimate track, “Off On It,” whose jerky rhythm is inventive but not used to full effect, paired as it is with a comparatively unexciting song. It’s quickly forgiven as it’s followed by the spare, stunning ballad “The Closing Of The Doors,” a gorgeous, smoky spotlit cabaret finish, just Róisín’s voice and a longing, gorgeous tune laid over piano with some mournful brass floating in occasionally to add atmosphere. Its poignancy is magnified by the fact that the album isn’t weighed down with similar songs, even amongst the faster songs that make up the majority of the proceedings, there’s a great deal of variety in mood and style.
Ruby Blue’s sophisticated, romantic pop won’t turn Róisín into the globe-straddling colossus her fans might have hoped, but its slow-burning charms mean fans of both her work with Moloko, and those of Matthew Herbert’s production, will find their tastes well catered to.
Reviewed by: Edward Oculicz
Reviewed on: 2005-07-05