The duo Moloko—comprised of musician and producer Mark Brydon and singer Roisin Murphy—took six years to achieve breakthrough commercial success after its 1993 formation. Along the way, the pair released albums with quirky titles such as Do You Like My Tight Sweater? and I Am Not a Doctor, matched by singles with equally obscure titles such as, “Where Is the What If the What Is in the Why?” Critics were usually impressed, although Moloko’s hard-to-categorize music caused more than one reviewer to suggest that the group should focus on one style of music instead of incorporating the house, hip-hop, trance, jazz, and soul elements that populated their albums. The pair held their ground, however, with Murphy defiantly stating in an interview with Chris Mugan of the Virgin.net website, “I am fed up with the whole thing. No one understands us. People just ask stupid questions. This is the problem being in Moloko: journalists always misrepresent us…. Why can’t you just write, ‘Moloko are an experimental pop band that are quirky and interesting,’ and have done with it?”
Born in 1973, Roisin Murphy grew up in Arklow, about an hour’s drive south of Dublin on Ireland’s east coast. Unfortunately her father, a furniture maker, lost much of the family’s money in a series of failed inventions. After moving to Manchester, England, when Murphy was 12 years old, her parents divorced. Her mother went back to Ireland, but Murphy stayed behind; by the time she was about 15, she was more or less self-sufficient. Although Manchester at that time was dominated by the “Madchester” scene of the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, Murphy found early inspiration from Sonic Youth. “Seeing Kim Gordon play changed everything for me,” Murphy told Q magazine in September of 2000. “She’s hardcore, man. It’s not even an issue she’s a girl. She’s very brave. And cool.”
Departing for Sheffield, England, in the early 1990s to stay near her then-boyfriend, Murphy discovered a new romantic interest when she met Mark Brydon at a party. Brydon, over a decade older than she, had already achieved some success in the music world as a producer and mixer for acts such as Krush (who scored a top-three single in Britain in 1988), Cloud Nine, and Eric B & Rakim. Somewhat burned out by his success, however, Brydon was ready for a change both professionally and personally. “I felt an affinity with Roisin straightaway,” he told Q. “A girl who could talk about music was a first for me.” Settling on the name Moloko—taken from a drink consumed by the Droogs in the classic science fiction novel and film A Clockwork Orange —the two spent the next year preparing for their musical debut.
While Murphy may have been a music fan, she had no musical training or performing experience to offer. Yet her distinctive voice—its wide range incorporating jazz, soul, and straight-ahead pop intonations—was an obvious asset. Murphy also began writing songs; in fact, the title track of the group’s first album, Do You Like My Tight Sweater?, came from her opening line to Brydon on the night they met.
Released in early 1996, the debut’s kitchen-sink approach created an eclectic, dance-oriented atmosphere. Critics were somewhat bewildered—“weird album: a glitter-skank, post-trip hop masterpiece,” wrote Danny Scott on the Q4Music website in December of 1995—but generally pleased by its attempts to expand the dance music genre. “Once in a great while, a dance/pop act comes along whose music is so infectious it transcends the genre’s club base and touches a broad spectrum of fans,” an April of 1997Billboard spotlight review said, adding that the album was “a gem.” Another Billboard review of the single “Fun for Me,” included on both Do You Like My Tight Sweater? and the soundtrack to the movie Batman & Robin, called the track an “incredibly fun and creatively satisfying record.” Despite the raves, however, Moloko’s commercial success with its debut did not live up to the critical hype. While “Fun for Me,” “Day for Night,” and the album’s first release, the confusingly titled “Where Is the What If the What Is in Why?,” received some club play in America and some radio play in Britain, the act remained largely relegated to cult status.
Brydon and Murphy toured with fellow Sheffield band Pulp in support of Do You Like My Tight Sweater? and decided to record their sophomore effort in their home studio. The result, I Am Not a Doctor, was released in
Members include Mark Brydon (born c. 1961 in Sheffield, England), bass, production; Roisin Murphy (born in 1973 in Arklow, Ireland), vocals.
Group formed, 1993; released first album, Do You Like My Tight Sweater?, 1996; “Sing It Back” from second album, I Am Not a Doctor, became top-five hit in Britain, 1999; “The Time Is Now,” from Things to Make and Do, hit the British top five, 2000.
1998. Like the band’s debut, it demonstrated that “Moloko are concerned to get every possible idea known to humanity down on the record,” as David Quantick of Q4Music noted in a September of 1988, four-star review. Unfortunately, the record did not immediately catch the fancy of the record-buying public. The following year, however, deejay Boris Dluglosh remixed one of the album’s tracks, “Sing It Back,” and sent it to Brydon and Murphy for their approval. They liked what they heard, and the track went on to become a dance-club favorite throughout Europe; the release even hit the top five on the British pop music chart. “Sing It Back” was also included on well over one hundred dance compilations, another testament to its popularity.
The single’s unexpected commerical success seemed to be a mixed blessing for the group. “We were surprised by how much people loved ‘Sing It Back,’” Murphy said in an April of 2000 interview with James Poletti of the Dot Music website, “but we were also surprised when we first put it out and it wasn’t a hit ‘cause it’s brilliant. I mean, the first time I heard it I just thought, ‘that’s massive.’” Their ambivalent attitude toward commercial success included the fear that the public might perhaps perceive Moloko as a one-hit wonder, even though “Fun for Me” had entered the British top 40 before “Sing It Back.” “A remix hit is the death-knell for most acts,” Bryson told Q in September 2000. “They try to repeat the phenomenon. To us it was a phenomenon that couldn’t be repeated.”
Moloko’s third album, Things to Make and Do, appeared in April of 2000. This time around the group enjoyed a massive hit with the first single released from the album, “The Time Is Now,” which peaked at number two on the British pop chart. As in the past, some critics carped at the band’s eclecticism. George A. Palathingal wrote in a Play Louder website review, “[t]hey’ve still a tendency to veer jarringly out of the way whenever the mainstream gets too close for comfort.” Others welcomed the “more overtly pop direction” of Things to Make and Do, such as Kerry Potter in the May 2000 issue of Q4Music, who called the album “melodic, dance floor-friendly stuff.”
The success of “The Time Is Now” made Moloko bon fide stars across Europe, with Murphy in particular being singled out for media attention. A striking presence on stage, she had already made an iconic impression by performing in a sequined red cat suit during the tour for I Am Not a Doctor. She also became a favorite with interviewers who enjoyed her typically blunt assessments of the music industry and Moloko’s place in it. In an interview with Virgin.net’s Chris Mugan, she offered the opinion, “Good pop is being killed by big high street record stores. You have to know what shelf to go to find anything…. We’re lucky to be on a label that allows us to experiment.” In another interview with the Dot Music website, she also defended the band’s independence, saying, “There is a central personality to the band that is a warm personality, that’s prepared to put itself on the line. We’ll always retain a core audience regardless of individual club tracks…. Nobody can predict what we are going to do next.” And as Murphy concluded an interview with Q in September of 2000, “The thing is, you’re not going to like Moloko if you’re concerned with cool. For us it’s not about slotting into genres. It’s our life.”
Do You Like My Tight Sweater?, Echo Label, 1996.
(Contributor) Batman & Robin: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture (soundtrack), WEA, 1997.
I Am Not a Doctor, Echo Label, 1998.
Indigo, Echo Label, 2000.
Things to Make and Do, Roadrunner, 2000.
All Back to the Mine, Echo Label, 2001.
Pure Pleasure Seeker, Import, 2001.
Billboard, April 5, 1997, p. 71; April 5, 1997, p. 72; February 8, 1998, p. 11; March 21, 1998, p. 98.
Q, December 1995; September 1998; May 2000; September 2000.
“Moloko,” Dot Music, http://www.dotmusic.com/interviews/April2000/interviews13578.asp (February 8, 2002).
Moloko Official Website, http://www.moloko.co.uk/biog/biog.php (February 8, 2002).
“Their Time is Now: Moloko Interview,” Virgin, http://www.virgin.net/music/features/feature_4514.html (February 8, 2002).
“Things to Make and Do: Moloko,” Play Louder, http://www.playlouder.eom/review/1.html (February 8, 2002).
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