As brilliant as Moloko could be -- on both their most eccentric and most conventionally pop moments -- their albums never quite jelled into something as uniformly great as Roisin Murphy's solo debut, Ruby Blue. By teaming up with producer Matthew Herbert, who remixed Moloko's "Sing It Back" back in the I Am Not a Doctor days, Murphy keeps the alluring sensuality and unpredictable quirks that made Moloko unique, without sounding like she's rehashing where she's already been. Both Murphy and Herbert are artists who are equally at home with the wildest and most accessible sounds (and especially when they bring those extremes together), so their reunion on Ruby Blue feels very natural, and gives the album a smoother, more organic sound than might be expected from a debut. Herbert's concept was to build the album around Murphy -- not just her gorgeous voice, but her life as well, and Ruby Blue reflects this with his skillful, witty use of environmental sounds throughout the album. Coughing, rustling, and other studio noise become a rhythm that in turn unfolds the gorgeously summery keyboards of "Through Time," while the more literal-minded "Dear Diary" surrounds Murphy with everyday noises like ringing telephones, buzzing doorbells, and what sounds like a ball bouncing on pavement. As quirky as the album might be -- and it doesn't get much quirkier than the spring-loaded, tribal rhythms of "Rama Lama" -- Ruby Blue never feels off-putting, because its flights of fancy are in service of the songs instead of distracting from them. The mix of '20s-style hot jazz and cool synths on the surreally sexy "Night of the Dancing Flame," the title track's elegant mischief, and "Sow Into You"'s crisp layers of vocals and brass are all mini-masterpieces of avant electronic pop. Indeed, the first two-thirds of Ruby Blue are almost too smooth, too perfectly realized to be the work of someone involved with a group as eccentric as Moloko was, so more experimental, unruly tracks like "Off on It" and "Prelude to Love in the Making" almost come as a relief (and act as a palate cleanser before Ruby Blue's striking piano ballad finale, "Closing of Doors"). As Murphy herself sings on "Through Time," "Could there be such a thing as beautifully flawed?" Ruby Blue flirts with perfection and settles for being the perfect start to the next phase of Roisin Murphy's career instead. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi
Track samples provided courtesy of iTunes
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