21st Century Disco Diva

The New Age disco queen known as Róisín Murphy is gliding through dark London streets in a cab, mere days from binging on New York Fashion Week, sounding a bit home-away-from-homesick. "I looove New York City," she says in her creamy Irish brogue. "I love to go shopping in the Meatpacking District, love to go to Duane Reade to buy loads of cheap cosmetics I can’t get in the UK." High fashion and glitter eye shadow are a good introduction to Murphy, the thinking fashionista's pop hedonist who has recorded the best dance album in Kylie-knows-when. Overpowered shimmers with romantic desire and pulses with irresistible, intelligent beats; its singles, "You Know Me Better" and "Let Me Know," are classy and classic disco. The video for the latter features the lithe blonde clad in an Alexander McQueen cape, pencil skirt and hot-pink gloves busting an elegant move through the aisles of a dingy British diner: A perfect package of sex, class, wit and quirk.

Comparisons to Madonna and Kylie Minogue -- while great for marketing purposes -- are therefore unfairly limiting. "But I never get compared to Madonna and Kylie. I get asked about being compared to Madonna and Kylie," contends Murphy, 35. "My press guy put it in the first press release, and ever since that, I've been asked about it. I don't think, really, I'm that associated with them. God forbid I should be as successful as them! Maybe one day."

Raised in Ireland and Manchester, Murphy joined the electronic duo Moloko at age 18, when she seduced producer Mark Brydon with the pick-up line, "Do you like my tight sweater?" It became the title of their first album, and for a decade they churned out quirky clubland staples like "Fun for Me," "The Time Is Now" and "Sing It Back." Along the way she developed a reputation for stylish eccentricity. After splitting from Brydon, in 2005 Murphy released her first solo album, Ruby Blue, a spiky collaboration with Matthew Herbert; its oblique melodies occasionally veered into musique concrète, with beats made from slamming books and tearing paper. Overpowered is a 180-degree turn back, enlisting half a dozen producers -- including Andy Cato of Groove Armada and DJ Seiji -- to provide edgy stompers more in line with her Moloko output. "I wanted to challenge myself," says Murphy of her decision to go more commercial. "Working with lots of different producers, everybody is trying to write The Single. Everybody ups their ante a bit. I've usually worked with only one guy, so this was a new experience I wanted to try."

The result is a party mix with sharp texture: the primal 3 a.m. wail "Primitive" showcases Murphy's dramatic voice, which she says is still a work-in-progress. "The beginning of my career in music was really a joke," she says. "It was sampling the line 'Do you like my tight sweater' over and over again, or doing silly tracks like 'Party Weirdo,' where I pretended to be a Valley Girl. More like acting. So I've learned to sing as I've gone along. I want to get to a natural place in my voice, with more range, more true emotion."

Overpowered also cemented her status as a darling of the fashion world. She was an early adopter of Gareth Pugh's outlandishly architectural designs, recruiting him to provide costumes for Overpowered's album art. "I saw his work and was just fascinated," she says. "He was very kind to let me come to his warehouse and scrabble around on the floor to find dresses and coats that had been worn by transvestites to [the London party] BoomBox. He influenced the whole way I went with the artwork and the videos." Her friend Frida Giannini recently enlisted her to soundtrack the new Gucci ad starring James Franco; Murphy's cover of Roxy Music's "Slave to Love" will be released as a single when the campaign goes global this winter.

And she has begun work on the next album. "I'd like to work with Seiji again. I'd like to work more in America," she says. "I find American producers really fantastic and driven, really focused. They stay up till 4 a.m., whereas English producers tend to want to go home for a tea at half past four in the afternoon. That's the great thing about America—you can get things done quickly, and when you work quickly, you can hold on to your vibrancy."

Overpowered will be released Stateside after the first of the year, raising the eternal question of American chart domination and its tendency to elude European artists. "It's very daunting, I must say," she says coquettishly. "My goal is never to dominate anyone, much to the surprise of some people, who think I'm a dominatrix. I'm actually the one who likes to be dominated. I think I'd like the U.S. to dominate me."

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