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Album Review: Goldfrapp - 'Head First' (Mute)


Album Review: Goldfrapp – ‘Head First’ (Mute)

Whether they know it or not, many of this generation’s most magnetic pop artists are in hock to [b]Alison Goldfrapp[/b]. [a]Lily Allen[/a], [a]La Roux[/a], [a]Little Boots[/a]… all owe the frizz-haired synth dominatrix some artistic debt or other, and that’s just the Ls. It’s been 10 years since [a]Goldfrapp[/a] the duo released their debut album [b]‘Felt Mountain’[/b], and in that time whatever musical direction Alison and her production partner [b]Will Gregory[/b] have gone – electroclash, glam-rock, folktronica, whatever – there have been no shortage of admirers and imitators in their wake. Perhaps this is why the time has come for them to collect their dues.

[b]‘Head First’[/b], though, is basically an upbeat electro-pop record with one foot in the ’80s, much like roughly 85 per cent of music made in the last two years. After [b]‘Black Cherry’[/b] and [b]‘Supernature’[/b] foretold the rise of the electro-vixen and 2008’s [b]‘Seventh Tree’[/b] helped precipitate the autumnal, paganistic pop of [b]Florence[/b], it’s odd to find [b]Goldfrapp[/b] and [b]Gregory[/b] following the lead of others.

Naturally, their points of reference are a little more obtuse. Take lead single [b]‘Rocket’[/b], a sleek, synth-powered ballistic missile that’s high on [b]Pat Benatar[/b]’s hairspray and in possesion of a chorus so cheesy and ebullient, it’s almost subversive. There’s an undercurrent of righteous diva man-based rage that all the best disco tracks seem to be infused with ([i]“Danger, heartache, something has died/No use pretending, I’m leaving this time”[/i]), but the focus is firmly on unapologetic, primary-coloured fun.

The stack-heeled shadow of [b]Abba[/b] is cast over a couple of tracks, too. [b]‘Alive’[/b] treads along on an infuriatingly familiar-sounding piano hook modernised by Gregory’s whip-smart production, while the album’s title track starts off sounding like [b]‘Mamma Mia’[/b] slowed to a seductive crawl, before veering into synthesized euphoria.

[a]Goldfrapp[/a] has characterised [b]‘Head First’[/b] as her ‘up’ album, but that’s misleading. Certainly, the songs we’ve mentioned and [b]‘I Wanna Life’[/b] (which should have a video of a teenage girl post-argument with Mum catching a Greyhound bus to the nearest Big City) are bouyant, free-spirited affairs, but there’s darkness on here too. Sadly, it isn’t always pulled off with the same aplomb; [b]‘Shiny And Warm’[/b] revisits the electronic-chanteuse persona of [b]‘Strict Machine’[/b] and [b]‘Train’[/b], but it feels sexed-down and safe, while downbeat [b]‘Hunt’[/b] could use big-chorus power-ballad tastelessness to lift it out of its meandering torpor. Most damning of all is [b]‘Voicething’[/b], a five-minute synth abstraction that sounds like [b]Enya[/b] braying out a mating call and which, on a record just nine songs long, there really shouldn’t have been space for.

Of course, it’s not [a]Goldfrapp[/a]’s fault they don’t seem unique now; if imitation is flattery, there are a lot of young females flattering the shit out of Alison. [b]‘Head First’[/b], enjoyable though much of it is, is disappointingly determined to return the favour.

[b]Barry Nicolson[/b]

[i]What do you think of the album? Let us know by posting a comment below.[/i]

Click here to get your copy of Goldfrapp’s ‘Head First’ from the Rough Trade shop