Review: Goldfrapp – Head First

We were worried. After following two of the greatest-ever electronic albums with the tepid The Seventh Tree, Goldfrapp stood as something of a precipice, do they regroup and remind us of the energy and punch they were capable of, or continue with experiments that don’t work and feel like a shadow of their best?

They gave us the single “Rocket” which thanks to an odd Pointer Sisters synth refrain and a strangely emotionless energy, felt off somehow. Then we caught a glimpse of “Believer” which was just dull and uninspiring.

We were worried. Was this another large-scale misfire in the offing? Was this disco experiment just window dressing for underwhelming songwriting?

As it turns out, not so much…We’ve already written about our strange childhood-based fascination with Xanadu, so we weren’t sure how much of that tone, that aura would be sought after by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp, and let’s just say, it’s there in spades and sometimes it actually, somehow, works.

We shoot right on over to “Alive” (also a title of an Electric Light Orchestra track from the Xanadu soundtrack) which is sprightly, fun and, yes, alive. It’s Goldfrapp doing what they do best and it’s the best song on the album, soaring in just the right places, complete with 1979/80-era laser synth flourishes (again, a Xanadu staple). Yes the lyrics are trite (Aaaah/Feeling alive again/alive again), but that’s kind of the point. The Seventh Tree was an album full of meaningful lyrics and an utter lack of fun. This is that album’s mirror image.

Almost every song here is a disco homage (not to mention the terrific, evocative cover art). “Dreaming” is a slow simmer over a pulsing disco-synth sequence; “Head First” is a pretty slow-burn love song (thunder, lightning and rain/imagine you’re lying here again/trying to get me out of here/trying to get me back to you/you were always on the land/I was always in the air) with a piano chord refrain that sounds vaguely like some of the BeeGee’s late 70’s work; “Shiny and Warm” sounds like every other song you heard on the radio in 1979 (and if you were alive during that time and have even a shred of nostalgia, that’s not a bad thing).

There’s not a lot of deep, memorable work here but it’s fun, breezy and casual. It’s less a relationship than a one night stand with some fun-if-not-meaningful sex which afterwards is remembered fondly rather than with great passion. Again, that’s not a bad thing, it’s an important part of one’s listening palate; it absolutely has it’s place.

Alison Goldfrapp herself is, as always in great voice (never better than on the title track when her voice alternately soars, purrs, and then layers with multiple tracks laid one upon the other, which was done so well on Supernature).

Then there’s “Voicething”, a lyric-less song, that features Alison’s voice as a sequenced instrument. Sounding different every time you listen to it, it’s the one time the band feel like they’re pushing against the edges of the disco boundaries they have laid out on Head First. We are reminded how clever and thoughtful they can be when they have their druthers. It’s a great capper to an interesting, often often very enjoyable album.

It’s not their best work, nor is it their deepest but we dare you not to listen to it repeatedly, and to fight the urge to dance. They are back to their electronic roots, and a spirit of dance has returned to the world of Goldfrapp. They are back in their wheelhouse while still showing they can experiment album-to-album and it’s a good thing. And for making Softsynth reflect on the days of Olivia Newton John in her headband and legwarmers and E.L.O. at their overdubbed wall-of-sound best we are ever grateful.

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One Response to “Review: Goldfrapp – Head First”

  1. It’s been a joy finding someone to filter thru the amazing amount of great synth music out there – especially when it appears my personal taste is so close to yours (brought home by your take on ‘Rocket’ here). I look forward to checking in on your posts often.
    -ed

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