By anyone’s reckoning two decades is a bit of a long time, and it has taken an actual 20
years for Pauline Murray to bring us us her first released music since 2000’s ‘Halloween’
ep. Sessions for ‘Elemental’ began in France in 2016, with her longtime partner and bassist
Robert Blamire and also former Roxy Music drummer Paul Thompson onboard, after a
series of solo acoustic shows which developed into a complete album’s worth of material.
A combination of new material and one or two older songs which were considered worth
giving a new lease of life to, ‘Elementals’ is a bit more than the 2nd Invisible Girls album.
Primarily electronic in its arrangements and with a distinctive theme running through its
musicality, it’s a definitive statement from a musician whose earlier work may seem
Opening track ‘Shadow In My Mind’ has all the energy and immediacy of her less recent
music, and her voice – simultaneously fragile and defiant – is in sparkling form, instantly
recognisable to anyone familiar with songs such as ‘Dream Sequence’, all the way back to
Penetration’s ‘Don’t Dictate’ and ‘Life’s A Gamble’. It’s an impressive performance
throughout the album. Of course the tone of the songs varies considerably over the ten
tracks. ‘Elementals’ is alternately celebratory, introspective, verging on confessional as
Pauline and her band make the most of their abilities. ‘Secrets’ has the authentic sound of
the Invisible Girls reconvened.
As does the rest of ‘Elemental’, although the focus of the album is very much on Murray
herself and her acoustic based songwriting, as it should. Her lyricism is concise and,
particularly on ‘The Gambler’ she can bring a depth of feeling to a simplistic motif, reciting
the names and number of playing cards – those Penetration gigs supporting The Fall
weren’t time wasted. ‘Dark Clouds’ seems like the most directly personal song, with
threatening weather approaching both metaphorically and literally : ‘when the dark clouds
come / there’s nowhere to run’, and while there’s an inevitability about the theme of ‘When
We Were Young’, sentiment takes second place to her refusal to regret the past.
‘After All’ begins as a smoothly played synth ballad which suddenly doubles its speed
halfway through, giving an added impetus to Pauline’s keening vocal as the pace moves up
from a gentle sway to frantic electronica. Lastly, ‘Unbroken Line’ is another highly
personal performance, sharply played and with a lyric that’s perhaps addressed to and also
about her family : ‘a part of me, a part of you / I see it written in your face’. It’s a fitting
conclusion to an album that has been at least four years in the making.
Pauline Murray isn’t a name that appears too often in the Punk Icons listings, although
Penetration had at least as many adherents as, say, Generation X or The Lurkers, amongst
others. If proof of this were needed, it’s worth noting that all the orange vinyl copies of
‘Elemental’ have already sold out, as have the handwritten lyric sheets – although I’m
unsure how many of those there were. How long the wait before the next Pauline Murray album ? If you ever appreciated any music she was ever a part of, I really would suggest that you
hear this release. Oh, and she did all of the album artwork.