Goldfrapp: Silver Eye review- a decent but unsurprising return to synthpop | Alexis Petridis’s album of the week

Their first few years find a series of revolutionary transformations, but as the duo return to synthpop, another big change and escapade is overdue

Goldfrapps seventh album seems fascinated by the subject of transformation. A sung inspired by a documentary about transgender children become the one you know you are, urges its chorus rub shoulders with a sung in which a human turns into a tiger. Its not entirely clear whether this second change is literal or metaphorical, although Alison Goldfrapp voices keen on the idea, either way. Magnificent primordial, she coos, like an admiring judge investigating a challenger at Crufts, or whatever the equivalent of Crufts is for men whove turned into tigers.

Of course, Goldfrapps devotees would say transformation is an wholly fitting topic for the duo to essay: there have certainly been some dramatic stylistic transformations in their career. While her partner, Will Gregory, lurked unseen in the shadows, Alison Goldfrapp seemed to turn in fairly short order from a purveyor of cinematic ballads into a woman whose live depicts involved playing a theremin with her crotch while looking like a besequinned Nazi air hostess, and later from that into a bucolic folkie in a harlequin outfit.

But the leaping from the electropop of 2005s Supernature to its pastoral-acoustic follow-up, Seventh Tree, seemed to finally define the parameters of Goldfrapps sound: rather than metamorphosise again, they settled into a comfortable rhythm, flipping between the two modes with each subsequent album. Their last, Tales of Us, was rich with strings and acoustic guitars; therefore it must be time to break out the synthesisers again.

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And so it proves. A number of tracks on Silver Eye, including the single Anymore, are audibly cut from the same glittery cloth as their more influential album, 2003 s Black Cherry. Plenty of other people had the idea of melding sleazy electronics with glam-rock beats you could tracing it back through 90 s trio Add N To( X) and ultimately to the Human Leagues 1980 encompas of Gary Glitters RocknRoll Part One but it was Goldfrapp who alchemised it into pop gold. Its a sound that had now been turned up everywhere in mainstream pop from Katy Perrys I Kissed a Girl to Kanye Wests Black Skinhead.

This time around, the synthesisers grind, the beats thud and the lyrics of Anymore gasp: Dedicate me your love, make me a freak. The problem isnt that Anymore or Systemagic or Everything Is Never Enough are bad songs exactly, instead that theyre not strong enough to overcome a sense of diminishing returns: what once seemed striking and staggeringly influential now feels a little bit commonplace, an idea Goldfrapp already explored pretty exhaustively during the playing-a-theremin-with-your-crotch epoch, and which umpteen other artists have subsequently helped to make ubiquitous.

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But elsewhere, Silver Eye choses to move on, if not with quite the kind of unanticipated left turn that once seemed to be Goldfrapps speciality. The pace slows, the temperature drops and the mood turns alternately dreamlike and ominous. The atmosphere is not unlike that conjured up on Seventh Tree or Tales of Us, but this time, the arrangements rest on electronic dronings: among the albums cast listing lurks sometime Bjrk collaborator Bobby Krlic, better known as the Haxan Cloak, very much a go-to guy if omnious electronic droning is what youre after. It feels like a conscious attempt to meld the two polarities of Goldfrapps sound, and it runs: closer Ocean prickles with chilly spite; Zodiac Black observes Goldfrapps voice lost amid cavernous drums and bursts of scourging white noise; theres a drowsy, hypnagogic quality about Faux Suede Drifter.

Silver Eyes best track, Moon in Your Mouth, genuinely does feel like Goldfrapp tying togther all the different threads of their career: the cinematic quality of their debut album, Felt Mountain; the synthesisers and sexuality of Black Cherry and Supernature; the Wicker Man-styled preoccupations of Seventh Tree. Its an absolutely beautiful sung that also raises the question: what next? Silver Eye sounds like Gregory and Goldfrapp eking out the last drops of inspiration from a musical template thats been in place for a decade now, with mixed results: sometimes it doesnt yield anything; sometimes familiar tricks, neatly rearranged, still run. Its highlightings will do for now theres great stuff here but its hard not to compare it to the days when you never quite knew what a Goldfrapp album would contain, or to hope they opt for another dramatic stylistic change in future: its better to personify the idea of transformation than to sing about it.

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