Hit Parade (Ninja Tune)
ROISIN MURPHY HAS LONG BEEN UNABLE TO DO ANY WRONG, musically at least. As her off-the-cuff remarks about the trans community and opposition to puberty blockers has her deep in hot water with the LBGTQI+ community (a more than hefty portion of her overall audience), she delivers what can only be described as the album of her entire career. Weirdly, her lyrically-delirious sixth album Hit Parade flies directly in the face of these comments and seems to suggest that finding your true self is a universal pleasure, a sentiment the subject of her words can surely relate.
Regardless, the masterful Hit Parade is the first full long collaboration-proper with German techno wiz, DJ Koze six years in the making. He would apparently receive Murphy's parts and twist them to his own will, often returning total surprise complete reinventions and incorporating her voicemails and goofy TikTok samples. It would seem that the always colourful Murphy has met her match with DJ Koze, finding an akin soul whose kaleidoscopic production makes for a seamless record that has pieced together perfectly.
It's Murphy herself, however, who hands in the headiest performance of her life, spitting shattered illusions, hints of autobiography and peeling back even more layers far deeper than the thundering disco purveyor on the likes of 2020's Róisín Machine or even the curious absurdity achieved with Moloko. It's an inventive album filled with unexpected twists and turns in not only DJ Koze's arrangements, but perhaps moreso, the production and the vocals. The unpredictability in each and every song is exhilarating. The transcendent 'Fader' is a superior example on a set filled with highlights. She weeps lyrical throughout, offering an emotionally-charged performance throughout about being "Off to meet my maker / when I'm good and ready." It's a mantra that perhaps holds Hit Parade's themes together in unison while the production is a strange hybrid of Outkast-meets-old Kanye soul sampling (here it's Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings' 'Window Shopping').
Hit Machine gloriously weaves between these soulful and ecstatic rhapsodies to the phenomenal self-loathing stomp of 'Hurtz So Bad', the panic doom of 'The House', surprising acceptance on 'Eureka' and sharp bitterness on the throbbing dub-techno slow burn of 'You Knew.' Elsewhere, it offers gorgeous accessible alt-pop that moves from stunning yacht-soul ('CooCool'), to crackly balladry ('The Universe' and perhaps the most euphoric house-pop number since 'Sing It Back' and 'The Time Is Now' from her previous project ('Free Will').
"That old magic is back," she exclaims on 'CooCool' and she isn't wrong. In its execution, Hit Parade manages to indulge the eccentric musical tendencies of a pair of gifted oddballs, impossibly achieving remarkable accessibility in the process. It's a complex puzzle puntuated by in-joke skits, subtle allusions to mortality and, ultimately, euphoric mystery. It glares directly at unease in the eye and smugly smiles anyway. The seemingly untapped freedom in the pair of music makers stuns at every turn and flies above the controversy in Murphy's comments, but look if you will and you will see true magic within this absurdist masterpiece, effortlessly one of the finest of 2023.
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