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Goldfrapp


When the likes of PORTISHEAD wound down operations after a couple of pre-millennium sets (ditto the similar MOLOKO after 2002’s “Statues”), a gap in the electronica market was ripe and ready for GOLDFRAPP: aka, namesake singer Alison Goldfrapp and her synth/multi-instrumentalist/co-composer Will Gregory. Taking inspiration from trip-hop, various cinematic auteurs and icy torch singers, the pair commanded attention from the pop hierarchy from the first threads of their debut “Felt Mountain” set; fast-forward a decade or so, and the duo were riding high on the crest of a resurgent dream-pop proliferation.
Formed towards the fall of ’98, in Bath, Somerset, complex chanteuse Alison was already a regular contributor to the independent music scene in England. She began experimenting with music as part of her fine-arts degree studies at Middlesex University, and while still majoring, she managed to appear on TRICKY’s debut “Maxinquaye” album, in 1995. Throughout the decade her dulcet vocal cues drew various requests, appearing on both ORBITAL’s “Snivilisation” (1996) and ADD N TO (X)’s undisputed masterpiece, “Avant Garde” (1998). Cameo appearances on alt-electro records such as these helped her establish a reputation in both the independent and mainstream circles.
By 1999, Alison had completed a tape of demo material that would ultimately find its way on to GOLDFRAPP’s startling debut album for Mute Records: FELT MOUNTAIN (2000) {*8}, a haunting record which also earmarked the talent of sidekick Gregory, who was now in his 40s. The record took the music press by surprise, with many critics duly placing the set high on their end of the year lists. Exploring 60s filmic sounds, cabaret and folktronica, FM displayed such beauty and inspiration that had peers PORTISHEAD and BROADCAST almost appear dated in comparison. The lush strings on `Horse Tears’, or Alison’s wilting vocals on `Pilots’, set the standards for any combo who dared compete. But `Lovely Head’, with its strange creeping JOHN BARRY-meets-STREISAND-esque orchestra, reminiscent of MERCURY REV’s darker period, and nostalgic whistling (very MORRICONE, indeed!), was perhaps the stand-out track on the entire album. Unfortunately, it was spoiled by an appearance in an Altman-esque mobile phone ad starring a very creepy Gary Oldman in a cameo role. That said, interested parties were said to inquire: “Who sings the tune in that Gary Oldman advert?”. Of course, it was Ms. GOLDFRAPP, and by the following year, both the album and singles (`Utopia’ and `Lovely Head’) were hitting the lower rungs of the charts.
2003’s BLACK CHERRY {*7} – featuring hits `Train’, `Strict Machine’ and `Twist’ – served up some more intoxicating, strangely familiar and deceptively futuristic pop; less traditionalist and more experimental than the debut but still operating broadly within that record’s parameters.
The clue to third album, SUPERNATURE (2005) {*7}, was in the title, and even if GOLDFRAPP didn’t unfetter the CERRONE nugget, the near chart-topping album played as a potted history of glam-rock/vintage-disco/electro-pop. Boosted by exposure in a T-mobile TV ad, lead single `Ooh La La’ went Top 5, its NORMAN GREENBAUM-ish-sampled subtext worshipping that “Spirit In The Sky” all over again; further singles `Number 1’ and `Ride A White Horse’ also reached Top 20 status. One didn’t need to be a paid-up train-spotter to pick out the references: The HUMAN LEAGUE, GARY NUMAN and DONNA SUMMER were all on the duo’s internal playlist.
Dumbing down the disco-glam frills and flirtations, SEVENTH TREE (2008) {*7}, incorporated retro-60s psychedelia into their trip-hop equation. A Top 50 breakthrough in America, the UK Top 3 set presented an effortless example of strings versus acoustics, while the chameleon-ism of waif Alison chilled-out Sunday morning-style complemented the lavish and lush, post-party pieces, `Clowns’, `Little Bird’ and `Cologne Cerrone Houdini’; bolstered somewhat by the upbeat `A&E’ and the AIR-cloned `Happiness’.
Inevitably, the cinematic envelope was pushed further when their exclusive `Nowhere Boy’ title track led the soundtrack to Sam Taylor-Wood’s “salad days” movie interpretation of JOHN LENNON. Back on the uber-glam trail of their early excesses, and citing GIORGIO MORODER, 80s electro, ABBA and OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN as inspiration (they’d once covered the latter’s “Physical”), HEAD FIRST (2010) {*7}, focused on the duo’s pop inclinations; `Rocket’, `Alive’ and `Believer’, the best examples on show. Happy to come “out of the closet” when confirming her love of partner Lisa Gunning (the duo’s video/film editor) in February 2010, bisexual Alison had finally become top-totty tabloid fodder.
2013’s TALES OF US {*8} was yet another Top 10 success story, while around the continent and over the Big Pond, GOLDFRAPP were always hot property. Turning to lush, symphony orchestras rather than syncopated synths, the ambient electronica of `Jo’, `Annabel’, `Drew’, `Ulla’, `Thea’, et al (named after friends and acquaintances), Ms Goldfrapp whispered her 3-octave delights served up as if from a fantasy MICHEL LeGRAND-scored movie for an imaginary Lynch, Antonioni or Polanski flick. In a word – seductive.
Three and a half long years down the line, GOLDFRAPP pursued their love of groovy electronica via seventh set, SILVER EYE (2017) {*7}; another Top 10 triumph held together by main co-producers The Haxan Cloak and John Congleton (with guitarist Leo Abrahams also in tow). Cutting like The KNIFE – the group! – or as cyber-sexy as KYLIE, the sombre Alison evoked haunting, tripped-out moods on just about every track; notably `Anymore’, `Systemagic’, `Everything Is Never Enough’ and anchor piece, `Ocean’ (later a single ft. Dave Gahan of DEPECHE MODE).
© MC Strong 2002-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Oct2013-Apr2017

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