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

Once the source of pop inspiration, now it seems they're content to follow

Whether they know it or not, many of this generation’s most magnetic pop artists are in hock to Alison Goldfrapp. Lily Allen, La Roux, Little Boots… all owe the frizz-haired synth dominatrix some artistic debt or other, and that’s just the Ls. It’s been 10 years since Goldfrapp the duo released their debut album ‘Felt Mountain’, and in that time whatever musical direction Alison and her production partner Will Gregory 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.

‘Head First’, 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 ‘Black Cherry’ and ‘Supernature’ foretold the rise of the electro-vixen and 2008’s ‘Seventh Tree’ helped precipitate the autumnal, paganistic pop of Florence, it’s odd to find Goldfrapp and Gregory following the lead of others.

Naturally, their points of reference are a little more obtuse. Take lead single ‘Rocket’, a sleek, synth-powered ballistic missile that’s high on Pat Benatar’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 (“Danger, heartache, something has died/No use pretending, I’m leaving this time”), but the focus is firmly on unapologetic, primary-coloured fun.

The stack-heeled shadow of Abba is cast over a couple of tracks, too. ‘Alive’ 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 ‘Mamma Mia’ slowed to a seductive crawl, before veering into synthesized euphoria.

Goldfrapp has characterised ‘Head First’ as her ‘up’ album, but that’s misleading. Certainly, the songs we’ve mentioned and ‘I Wanna Life’ (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; ‘Shiny And Warm’ revisits the electronic-chanteuse persona of ‘Strict Machine’ and ‘Train’, but it feels sexed-down and safe, while downbeat ‘Hunt’ could use big-chorus power-ballad tastelessness to lift it out of its meandering torpor. Most damning of all is ‘Voicething’, a five-minute synth abstraction that sounds like Enya 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 Goldfrapp’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. ‘Head First’, enjoyable though much of it is, is disappointingly determined to return the favour.

Barry Nicolson

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Click here to get your copy of Goldfrapp's 'Head First' from the Rough Trade shop
6 / 10

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