OVERPOWERED - Roisin Murphy

She of 'Moloko'. Y'know, remember 'The Time Is Now' and 'Sing It Back'? Well, 'Overpowered' is her second solo album and is gathering a fair few positive reviews. I happened to be in a store last week and heard a number of tracks playing and as is my predeliction I picked up a copy on the strength of what I heard.

It's not the entire triumph that some reviewers are crowing about. It has a number of utterly brilliant tracks that are diminished by some rather routine, average electro-jazz funk numbers. The opening track 'Overpowered' starts the album well. If you're wondering what to expect then think of this lineage - 70s and 80s electronica, nods to disco hits like 'Supernature', the orphan child of Electribe 101, Jean Michel Jarre, Goldfrapp and a massive swipe from Eurythmics circa 'Sweet Dreams'. Great, eh? And Roisin has a terrific voice too so she's in good company with Alison and Annie there.

'You Know Me So Well' is a single in waiting and is so 'pop hit' circa 1981 that it hurts. It is a simple pop construction with lovely fat bass synths and clapping drums and a killer, killer chorus. A Sheffield lass, she's most certainly the latest in the 'Human League/Heaven 17/ABC' pop family tree by turning out songs like this.

'Checkin' On Me' unfortunately, for me, turns it all into Lisa Stansfield type pap despite some nice strings and brass. She is certainly channelling Stansfield and Green Gartside on this and the current single 'Let Me Know'. It's too self-consciously late 80s pop funk and like the later Scritti Politti obsession with pristine jazz funk it sets my teeth on edge and there's nothing remarkable about these tracks for me. Whereas Goldfrapp are equally ironic about their influences they don't use those influences in such a bleedin' obvious way.

'Movie Star' is a Goldfrapp rip-off via Eurythmics. It's lovely but highly derivative. Great driving walls of synths, neat chorus and good vocals. Annie should sue just for the backing vocal techniques alone. Is this 1981 I've suddenly time warped back to? 'Primitive' is the highlight of the album for me. It at least takes the influences and does something really quite sublime with them. Great song, 'Yello' style backing vocals, spare and atmospheric instrumentation and a top vocal from Roisin.

I'm afraid 'Footprints' is Scritti Politti sleek jazz-funk. Yuk. It even chucks in some 'Imagination' twiddly synth lines. It's so saccharine I can feel my teeth rot as I listen to it. 'Dear Miami' fares much better and again is spare and atmospheric with a hooky melody and chorus. It isn't overdone, thankfully. And then we're plunged into HiNRG, Bobby O territory with 'Cry Baby' which isn't too bad and will hopefully go down well in clubs, but hey what do I know as I'm hardly at the age of geddin' down with the kids? It grows and builds rather nicely even if it isn't entirely memorable. Some rather passe disco drums, a la 'It Feels Like I'm In Love' contrive to drag it down into the self-conscious. Again, a good vocal saves it from mediocrity.

'Tell Everybody' raises the game again and showcases Roisin's vocals extremely well. It does remind me of Electribe 101 but it's only good memories this time. Lovely.
'Scarlet Ribbons' slows it all down with a introverted paen to the relationship between a daughter and a father. Great vocal work but it doesn't quite come off in the middle of all the four to the floor disco stuff.

The final two tracks 'Body Language' and 'Parallel Lives' round it all up with the latter concluding the album in suitable fashion with plenty of rave style bleeps and sequencers.

Overall, it has a number of quite excellent electronica pieces that are worth listening to but it could have been twice the album it turned out to be if Roisin hadn't churned out dreadful pastiches of Stansfield, Scritti et al for half of the tracks. When it works as an homage to 80s electronic music it is sublime but the twee jazz-funkers such as 'Let Me Know' and 'Footprints' instantly had me reaching for the remote. However, Roisin Murphy remains distinctive in a music chart that is fast becoming so bland that the more interesting material is now more often found on the fringes rather than at the centre of British popular music.

Overpowered - Roisin Murphy (EMI 5070902)

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