tremble clef

Monday, May 29, 2006

Moloko, "Bankrupt Emotionally" (2003/2006)

There're not many bands that go out at the top of their game, in a blaze of glory. If 2003's Statues does indeed turn out to be Moloko's last studio album, which indeed looks to be the case, then Róisín Murphy and Mark Brydon, in my book, would have achieved just that. It's tough to know how to react to this unusual phenomenon, of course: on the one hand, you have to be happy for any band that doesn't start a slow gradual decline into being just shells of themselves, but, on the other, that blaze of glory clearly leaves you wanting more, interested to see what else they would have done.

In 1995, I was visiting London, and reading Time Out. The magazine profiles a new band Moloko, which the writer compares to Portishead and categorizes as a triphop band. The analogy sure proved prescient, eh? But it was enough to intrigue me, and since these were the days when print music journalism actually had some influence, I bought Do You Like My Tight Sweater? when I saw it for six or eight pounds. It was a disappointment: although it boasted the terrific single "Fun For Me," the rest of the album, filled as it was with ditties about monkeys, bunnies, horseys, and weirdoes, was too self-indulgent for me. The pattern would repeat itself over the next few years. I Am Not A Doctor was likewise picked up in a used store, but aside from "Sing It Back" (on the album in its original downtempo form), the rest of the album was almost actively annoying. And while Things To Make And Do had a higher batting average -- there were actually non-singles on that record I like! -- it was still severely uneven.

Burnt thrice, I would have been forgiven for passing on the band's fourth outing. For some reason, I didn't, and am I ever glad for my inability to learn from my mistakes. For Statues, my favorite album of 2003, finally did what I've always wanted Moloko to do: make a record that was filled, from start to finish, with the kind of killer pop songs that they were obviously capable of. In addition, it was surprisingly emotional. Recorded, as it's well-known by now, when Róisín and Mark were at the end of their relationship, Statues included enough devastating lyrics to make it possibly the best breakup album ever: from the plaintive "Got to find me somebody/But there's nobody to love me" refrain of "Forever More," to the entirety of "Statues" (still one of the saddest songs ever written: while some people may find the conceit about weeping statues too fanciful and precious, it slays me), to the way the last song on the album, "Over And Over," both acknowledged the end of a relationship and yet, at nine-plus minutes, including a fake ending, in an anguished display of denial, keeps refusing to end, to finish, to die. Apt: in retrospect, "Over And Over" likewise expressed the way certain listeners didn't especially want the album, or the band's output, to conclude either. "Can we meet and talk it over?/Would you be kind enough to call?/Over and over/It's over all over/And over and over and over and over..."

Given the way their first three records were built around strong singles and little else, the band's greatest hits collection was always going to be one of their best efforts. Catalogue (the title scooping the next Pet Shop Boys book), which will come out at the end of summer, makes clear just how tremendous a run of singles Moloko put together. In the middle of the greatest hits record is a song called "Bankrupt Emotionally." This track was actually recorded in 2003 -- a result of the Statues sessions, apparently -- and unofficially issued, under the (wrong?) title "Emotional Bankruptcy," as a one-track promo CD in the US. Three years later, it finally makes its official appearance on Catalogue. You can tell that it emerged from the same set of circumstances as the rest of Statues: aside from its lyric, the track features a vaguely flamenco guitar much like the one on "Familiar Feelings," and horns that recall "Forever More." There's also a slightly ominous big rumbling synth riff that sounds like "Are 'Friends' Electric," which Moloko covered for the Gary Numan tribute album Random. In some ways, then, the track sums up Moloko's career. Perhaps it's better that it is only coming out now, when I am at least, and at last, willing to see the end of the chapter (chapter eleven, it would seem).


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