Essential Tracks: New and reissued music from Róisín Murphy, Cyndi Lauper and Eric Copeland
Róisín Murphy, “Take Her Up to Monto” (Play It Again Sam). Last year this Irish artist earned a Mercury Prize nomination for “Hairless Toys,” which served as a reminder of the former vocalist for trip-hop duo Moloko’s power and aesthetic. Her new album is even better, a curious, engaging work that mixes electronic and acoustic elements to create kaleidoscopic tracks.
Co-produced with her longtime collaborator Mark Brydon (who was the other half of Moloko), “Take Her Up to Monto” moves from rhythm to rhythm with little regard for the four-on-the-floor repetition of house music. “Romantic Comedy” jerks and sways, cosmic tones weaving at random intervals. “Thoughts Wasted” is a weird synth-pop song that gets its drive from a keyboard melody and a series of looping synth notes.
For the record: An earlier version of this review misidentified Róisín Murphy’s primary longtime collaborator with the group Moloko as Eddie Stevens. It also misidentified Murphy as British.
“Take Her Up to Monto” is complex in the best possible way: With layers of sound and lyrics that dive into both universal and private emotional truths, the record rewards repeated listens. Most of the tracks surpass the five-minute mark, but do so not through repetition but structural variety. Which is to say: Don’t expect immediate toe-tapping gratification. Heard with focus and volume, though, the whole of “Take Her Up to Monto” blossoms.
Cyndi Lauper, “Detour” (Sire/Rhino). When the powerhouse vocalist headed to Nashville for her new album, “Detour,” she had a few key allies in her corner. The artist, whose marvelous career becomes more impressive with each project, turned to Sire Records founder Seymour Stein to help pick songs and producer Tony Brown to guide the process.
As a team, it’s an unstoppable combination: Lauper, after all, transformed “True Colors” into an LGBTQ anthem, turned “Time After Time” into one of the great ballads of the 1980s and reinvented herself on Broadway by writing the music and lyrics for “Kinky Boots.” For his part, Stein, who remains Sire’s president, has signed acts including Madonna, the Ramones, Talking Heads, the Pretenders, the Cure, the Smiths, Depeche Mode and dozens of others.
Over his storied career in country music, producer Brown has guided the platinum success of records by Vince Gill, Reba McEntire, Rodney Crowell and dozens of others. More recently, he produced Lionel Richie’s “Tuskegee,” an obvious point of reference for “Detour.”
Opening song “Funnel of Love” mixes the twang of Wanda Jackson’s classic version with Lauper’s irreverent new wave. Lauper yelps where Jackson growls, and if the new take is less menacing, it sets a tone that continues across the record’s dozen songs.
As though she were born with one foot in Queens and the other in the sticks, Lauper channels both rhythm and blues and country and western for her take on “Misty Blue,” and the result is the record’s vocal highlight. She teams with Vince Gill for a raucous version of “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly.” For the fiddle-heavy title-track, Lauper harmonizes with Emmylou Harris. Whether Lauper will replicate the commercial success of “Tuskegee” is doubtful, but this is Cyndi Lauper we’re talking about, so only a fool would bet against it.
Eric Copeland, “Black Bubblegum” (DFA). As founding member of the experimental electronic group Black Dice, Copeland has built a body of work that deconstructs the tropes of electronic dance music to get a gander at its innards. He’s done so by mixing low-grade noise, high-art ideals and a touch of subtle humor.
For “Black Bubblegum” Copeland turned his ear toward electronic pop music, but in a typically oblong way. Opener “Kids in a Coma” rolls on the back of a stuttering beat likely to get a DUI citation. But the rhythm soon gathers momentum, and within a few minutes what first sounded wrong now feels exactly right. “On” has the vibe of “Mellow Gold”-era Beck: a kitchen-sink race through sloppy synth beats and a strummed-guitar sample.
Singing? Copeland’s not any good at it in the typical sense, but he’s not gunning for a Grammy. He barks through what sounds like a Radio Shack microphone, scat-singing to his own layered voice, chanting, humming, shouting. “Rip It” tackles Jamaican rock-steady, but in a twisted way that will likely cause reggae fans worldwide to guffaw at Copeland’s gall. But what’s wrong with a little gall? In the sticky realm of “Black Bubblegum,” absolutely nothing.
There’s a lot of terrible music out there. For tips on the better stuff, follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit
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