Submitted by stuartwilson on 20 March 2010 - 12:39pm
Album: Head First
Released: 22 March
Genre: "Electro-pop", "Synth-pop"
Another attempt to re-live pop's golden era is efficiently executed.
30 years ago, Ronald Reagan was elected US president, Mount St.Helens erupted in Washington killing 57 people and The Beatles' John Lennon was shot dead four times in the back outside his home in New York City.
Under a capitalist Conservative Margaret Thatcher government in the UK with many mining and staple industry families losing their jobs and encountering depression and sharing none of the optimism in the booming south and London Docklands, most of the UK during the 1980s was feeling miserable; all cheery stuff then?
So from where did folks get their light relief and heady rushes of optimism immediately after Jim Callaghan’s Labour government and the Winter of Discontent? Via everyone from the loathsome packaged Kids From Fame and Flashdance, to Michael Jackson, Madonna and Olivia Newton-John music videos and the entertainingly ridiculous leather and perm donning glam metal from artists like Motley Crue and Van Halen.
It is this which pop masters Goldfrapp have tried to more than just hint at in swathes with their latest effort, Head First. And vocalist Alison Goldfrapp and classically-trained composer/producer Will Gregory have certainly added the fist-pumping, fast-paced, all-action '80s themes on Goldfrapp's new record.
Indeed Goldfrapp needed to catch up with their synthetic '80s nostalgic pop peers. Recent work from the Lady Gaga's, La Roux's, Little Boots' and Ladyhawke's of this world - not to mention the Calvin Harris', Empire Of The Sun's, MGMT's and Sam Sparro's sprouting up from every rainbow-coloured horizon - suggests the '80s and its sugary bubblegum-pop legacy is set to stay for at least a little while longer, at least until the Sherbet dip runs dry.
It was necessary then for Alison and Will to jump on the Harley-sized bandwagon and ride off in to the sunset like Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis set to a Giorgio Moroder or Harold Faltermeyer synth-pulsing Top Gun soundtrack wasn't it? Well, yes, if you're to capture the ridicule of the 1980s, which is what Goldfrapp have managed on Head First with reasonable authenticity.
Ones for successful re-invention, Goldfrapp have gone from ambient sophistication with 2000's debut Felt Mountain via electro-pop glam in between with Black Cherry and Supernature to acceptable folk-driven weirdness on 2008's Seventh Tree and gone full circle to the ghosts of Irene Cara, Moroder and Fleetwood Mac on Head First.
Opener Rocket - a single which has surprisingly only peaked at #47 in its first week in the UK - is a hook-laden pop treat with references to Alison's newest love of her life, film editor Lisa Gunning. Make what you will of the song's key lyric, "Oh-woah, I've got a rocket, you're going on it", set to synth chords similar to Van Halen's Jump and resembling the choral harmonies of ABBA.
Love is the obvious theme on Head First and it continues with another sure-fire hit, Believer. Amidst fluttery electronic bass pans and optimistic wispy vocals from Alison - “I’m a believer, I’m a believer in you now” - it captures the essence of the ‘80s while highlighting Miss Goldfrapp’s recent yearnings in one record.
With stabs of disco-influenced hits including dreamy string and piano arpeggios and multi-tracked vocals with killer harmonies, Head First is in many respects genius pop gold. This is summed up by the Madonna/Stuart Price-like track Dreaming and the Tango In The Night Fleetwood Mac styling on Alive while on the album’s title track you can imagine Christine McVie or Stevie Nicks floating vocals over these glittery melodies with consummate ease.
But while Head First typically merges Goldfrapp’s pop-writing supremacies with their infinite ability to capture any style which exists, there is a feeling of cliché and the contrived.
The melodies, rhythms and pop theatrics don’t stick in your head like past wonder hits Lovely Head, Strict Machine, Ooh La La or A&E did so well. Bar Rocket, there’s no track on Head First which is immediately memorable after a first listen.
Tracks like Hunt – which sounds like Xenomania’s Brian Higgins has sprinkled his gold-dust and created something so clinical you could imagine Girls Aloud or The Saturdays delivering it - Shiny and Warm and I Wanna Life have flashes of typical Goldfrapp intellect in arrangement and ideas but sound aptly dated in a world where their peers have caught the boat and left the so-often innovative Goldfrapp behind.
And with the closer Voicething – an instrumental track which has the child-like warbling and production of Felt Mountain meeting Laurie Anderson’s bizarre ‘80s hit O’Superman – a completely different take on the ‘80s altogether, it is hard to understand quite what Goldfrapp are trying to achieve with this record.
It’s then surprising, that the usual genre innovators are harking back to past glories for inspiration and offering lyrical minimalism beside for the first time a whole album of accessible, but often middle of the road “synth-pop”.
However this is not to say the album is not enjoyable, as its best moments live up to Goldfrapp’s best intelligent creative catalogue. Head First is equal to other successful disco-driven pop records like Daft Punk’s Discovery, Calvin Harris’Ready For The Weekend or Madonna’s Confessions On A Dancefloor and at times is far better.
For pleasing no-nonsense straight-delivery pop, this is the ticket. But if you want lyrical depth and less in-your-face synthetic hookery for the masses, look elsewhere.