“Familiar Feeling,” the first song on Moloko’s fourth album, Statues, features a two-and-a-half-minute intro that, at brush encounter, seems grandiose, absurdly cinematic. With escalating orchestral maneuvers billowing up into a solar flare of clashing cymbals, it feels as if a car-chase sequence, mad-dash-edited with flashbacks of childhood and cocaine use, had just ended badly for some reckless fugitive. It’s a wide-screen doozy, hilariously over-the-top (though not as much as A Clockwork Orange, the origin of the sordid reference that gives the Sheffield, England, duo their name). The intro proves that Moloko’s well-known appetite for musical bonkers has only grown more ravenous these past few years, despite their great crossover stunts on what once looked to be their last album, 2000’s incomparable Things To Make and Do. (After its release, singer Roisin Murphy and music man Mark Brydon ended their romantic relationship; they’ve since decided to test their professional one.)
But as the rest of “Familiar Feeling” plays on, with its Latin-style acoustics dancing around the daydream momentum of Murphy’s breathless singing, the melodrama begins to work on you differently. The shit’s heavy. She’s trying to mess with your heart, saying she’s met you once before, at an uncertain time and place, but she assures you that the feeling is sincere. It’s not a joke this time. Why should any brush encounter be a joke, when the possibilities could be unbelievably lovely?
Man, are Moloko being sincere these days, on pretty much the whole album. Murphy has said recently, “I was 19 when I made Do You Like My Tight Sweater?” — Moloko’s determinedly irreverent 1995 debut, named after her savvy pickup line, which started the group — “and I knew I was pretending, but if I tried not to, I’d still be pretending. Now, I know myself better.” And with Brydon no longer buying into the fashionable 1990s ideal for a British musical household — a woman, a man and his computer (over 50 different musicians contributed to Statues) — certainly the new album announces an important transition in their relationship.
Equally interesting is the forced transition of the earliest Moloko junkies. They’re the ones who are still fiending for the crack-pipe avant-funk of the debut album and its even more unruly follow-up, I Am Not a Doctor. That one contains the original version of Moloko’s gargantuan 1999 clubland steamroller, the Boris Dlugosch remix of “Sing It Back” (more than 500,000 copies sold, featured on over 100 compilations), the track that changed everything for Moloko’s old and new fans. The progression (or, for some, the collapse) went something like this: The “Sing It Back” remix put Moloko on the map, which put their live shows on the map, which forced them to do better live shows. In order to do better live shows, they needed more songs that could be played better live, which prompted them to record much of Things To Make and Do with live musicians, which ultimately produced the gorgeously arranged “The Time Is Now,” which, as an international hit and a noticeable leap in the group’s artistic development, became the most conspicuous influence on Statues’ towering symphonic pop and dub disco. (In typical excessive fashion, Statues’ title track and the 10-minute saga-finale, “Over and Over,” were recorded at London’s massive Lyndhurst Hall to accommodate 34 musicians in the string sections alone.)
The old-school Molokoids will likely cringe at the straight-up dance-floor diligence of “Forever More,” sung straight from Murphy’s nostalgia for her Body & Soul days in NYC (remixes by Francois K. and Matthew Herbert to come), while they’ll pounce rabidly on a morsel like “Come On,” which is perhaps the only instance of classic Moloko diabolical humor offered on Statues: “Do you remember the way we danced?/I wish I could forget it/Said I’d give you the one last chance/I wish I never said it.” Yeah, you can feel the faithful’s hunger sometimes, and though the best-of-both-worlds interim release, Things To Make and Do, is slightly more rewarding, they’d be crazy not to lap up this mesmerizing new album — its staggering musicality, its soulful balance. As usual, they’d be more on the ball than U.S. music execs, who haven’t yet managed to plug Statues (or Moloko’s two previous full-lengths) into stateside distribution, slashing the chance of a tour here. I myself can’t get enough of “Familiar Feeling,” can’t get enough of what Murphy’s saying, and although it’s nice that she’s assuring me we’ve met once before, I think it’d be fantastic to meet Moloko all over again.