Alison’s Opalescent Retro

GOLDFRAPP have always shed skins with every album. Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory are almost like a modern day EURYTHMICS, changing styles as they please and making the audience work for their enjoyment whether they approve of the new direction or not!

From their moody cinematic debut ‘Felt Mountain’ to the futurist electro-glam of ‘Black Cherry’ and the X-Certificate Kylie of their biggest commercial success ‘Supernature’, even fans were a little shocked when folktronica album ‘Seventh Tree’ hit the shelves.

Coming over like Sandy Denny crossed with Britt Ekland in ‘The Wicker Man’, the album was an unexpected success despite the drastic change in direction.

But for ‘Head First’, there’s yet another path. Alison Goldfrapp recently came out in her relationship with ‘Nowhere Boy’ film editor Lisa Gunning and this appears to have provided her an emotional release, a metaphoric weight off her shoulders. ERASURE’s Andy Bell once remarked that Ms Goldfrapp was “a sweetheart but really needs to loosen up” and it would appear that this joyous union has resulted in the most up GOLDFRAPP album ever.

In common with Annie and Dave’s appropriately titled ‘Be Yourself Tonight’ LP which exposed more Stateside influences, ‘Head First’ shows hints of MTV styled AOR with Irena Cara-era Giorgio Moroder, Laura Branigan and Olivia Newton-John being the most instant references. That Da Neutron-Bomb is an influence however should not be a complete surprise as GOLDFRAPP interpolated her classic hit ‘Physical’ into their own B-side ‘UK Girls’ as far back as ‘Felt Mountain’ in 2000.

Alison obviously has a taste for guilty pleasures and probably in a desire to show Gaga, Boots and Roux a thing or two, she’s let rip with the synths again to reclaim her disco queen crown. But add in some power chords while trying not to say VAN HALEN and for the first time, GOLDFRAPP are actually sounding retro! More Oberheim than Korg, ‘Head First’ has precious little agenda with yesterday’s tomorrow.

First single ‘Rocket’ has the synthetic brassy stabs of ‘Gloria’ and the wonderfully banal lyrics like “Woah-oh-ohh! I’ve got a rocket! Woah-oh-ohh! You’re going on it!” recall the Italo disco genre which was such a big influence on the Laura Branigan sound. The middle eight is gorgeous and you can read what you want into any sexual innuendo! Several other tracks like ‘Believer’ and ‘I Wanna Life’ are enjoyable FM pop but typical of the Americanised anthemic sound attempted on ‘Rocket’. In a strange way, GOLDFRAPP are going back to their cinematic roots. Only the soundtrack is for the montage dance scene of a Brat Pack movie or ‘Flashdance’ rather than a Cold War spy drama!

‘Alive’ recalls ELO’s ‘I’m Alive’ from Da Neutron-Bomb’s ‘Xanadu’, a film so awful it was rechristened ‘Xanadon’t’! But this does sound like it could be a new song for the extended directors cut. The synth solo is big and fat; it’s GOLDFRAPP‘just not as we know them! The stand-out track is ‘Dreaming’ which walks tall because it’s the most European of the set. There’s a beautiful high-register chorus alongside the chunky arpeggios, swimmy ARPs and real strings. It’s a slice of quality Eurodisco with an updated take on French electronic acts such as CERRONE and SPACE (not the talentless Scouse chancers!)

The title track is pure ABBA! Even the “I am your visitor” lyric points to their final album being one of Alison and Will’s muses. Will Gregory pays tribute to Benny Anderson with some classic keyboard runs while the belting multi-layered harmonies are Alison doing her best Agnetha and Annifrid. Alison loosens up further on ‘Shiny and Warm’, whispering along to fat bass pulses and a stuttering Lindyhop that makes this a more electronic cousin to ‘Satin Chic’ from ‘Supernature’.

A GOLDFRAPP album wouldn’t be a GOLDFRAPP album without the usual plethora of slower moods. There’s the staccato ‘Hunt’ which is like their own ‘Deep Honey’ driven by a live drum beat and the neo-accapella ‘Voicething’ which is dominated by Alison’s abstract vocal stylings on top of a minimal electronic backing track. It’s doesn’t quite scale Matterhorn heights in the way ‘Felt Mountain’ did but it’s a lovely closer.

Short and sharp, ‘Head First’ doesn’t outstay its welcome and works as an album. GOLDFRAPP have been the epitome of cool in the 21st Century but are they in now danger of thawing? ‘Head First’ is a very immediate, fun recording but whether it will become a classic, only time will tell.

‘Head First’ is released by Mute/EMI Records

Text by Chi Ming Lai
21st March 2010