The lush, pastoral folk of Goldfrapp’s fourth album, 2008’s Seventh Tree, made for rewarding listening, but was a swift departure from the Studio 54 revival that was its predecessor Supernature.
Likewise, the band’s second album, the abrasively electronic Black Cherry, sounded a million miles away from the woolly trip-hop of their debut, Felt Mountain.
With such a track record, fans have become used to expecting the unexpected from Goldfrapp. Five albums into the game, who knew what the ’Frapp would deliver next?
Few could have predicted their new record, Head First, would be a collection of fizzy, ’80s-styled power pop, with its ‘guilty pleasure’ influences like Flashdance, Van Halen and the Pointer Sisters worn very much on its sleeve.
Frontwoman Alison Goldfrapp’s musical partner in crime, Will Gregory, told Sydney Star Observer that there was no grand plan behind the duo’s musical restlessness.
“After we did Felt Mountain, we didn’t want to just be one-dimensional, not matter how lovely that dimension might be. It came out of the fact that Alison is so fantastically versatile; she’s got a lot of voices inside her,” he said.
“There’s a lot of improvising when we’re in the studio — it’s a bit like playing, in a really childish way. Whenever you do that, you find yourself going down all sorts of avenues.
“You end up going places you didn’t know you could go, and suddenly you’ve got a new direction. I think that happens every album for us.
“And besides, you live each album quite intensively: you write it, record it, mix it, master it, tour it. You’re kind of ready for something else at the end of all that. We do bore easily.”
This new album has coincided with an interesting development in the personal life of Alison Goldfrapp, for queer fans at least, with the singer recently revealing a relationship with film editor Lisa Gunning. It was a surprising revelation from someone who’d always kept her private life very much private.
Alison has since bristled at journalists who’ve sought to define her sexuality (“My sexuality is the same as my music and my life. Why does it need a label?” she demanded of one Times journalist who dared ask if she was a lesbian).
Viewing Goldfrapp’s music through this prism offers a few tantalising hints about Alison’s fluid sexuality — like new single Rocket, a deceptively happy break-up song with the repeated line “But I still wanna know, how she got in the door, uninvited”, which seems to suggest either a cheating boyfriend or, more interestingly, a female lover who got under Alison’s skin.
Speaking of Rocket, how exactly did the pair manage to leave behind the psychedelic folk of Seventh Tree and arrive at a song that seems to channel Van Halen’s feelgood 1984 cheese-fest Jump?
“I think that recognisable synth sound happened first, and it appears elsewhere on the album. We love that sound — ‘Pow!’, and you’re instantly ready to do a star jump. When you get a sound like that where even after one little stab, it puts you in a place so clearly, it’s quite exciting. We just went with it, we couldn’t resist it,” Gregory chuckled.
Elsewhere on Head First, Goldfrapp worked with producer Richard X on sprightly future single Alive — X being the go-to guy for anyone wanting a particularly faithful ’80s electro sound — and created what may the most enjoyably ’80s song on an album full of ’em.
It also marks one of the rare occasions they’ve sought outside musical help.
“It’s difficult with us and producers, because we’re a bit of a closed shop once we get in the zone. But we do have moments where we think, ‘Help!’. Richard X came along quite early on, and he really got what we were trying to do, he was really into it.”
Of course, X has something of a chequered past with Goldfrapp. He penned and produced a 2004 smash single for Rachel Stevens, Some Girls, that bore an uncanny resemblance to the band’s own 2003 glam-rock stomper Strict Machine. Did Gregory mention the ‘coincidence’ in the studio?
“Ah, no, we didn’t bring that up,” he said delicately.
“We did have a slight sort of moment back when all that happened. He’d done a remix of Strict Machine, so he knew what about the song and heard it before everybody else did. When we heard Some Girls, we definitely thought there was an element of the ‘magpie’ to his song. But that’s how pop music works, doesn’t it?”
Indeed. Goldfrapp’s distinctive sound and imagery have influenced many in the music world over the past decade. Word is Madonna paid close attention to Alison’s glitter and mirrorballs look when formulating the imagery for her own Confessions on a Dancefloor.
“We’ve noticed that happens a bit. In the rush to keep the machine turning, people do tend to look around feverishly to see what’s going on that they can mould to suit them. I can think of a few times our music, imagery and styling have been used in that way.
“But again, it’s just what happens — we take it as a compliment. And it doesn’t go unnoticed, so people who do that have to be a bit careful about how they do it.”
With Goldfrapp now one decade and five albums into their career, does Gregory ever feel overshadowed by his bandmate’s star power? A sizable portion of Goldfrapp’s fans are probably unaware there are even two people in the act, so blinding is Alison’s wattage.
Has he ever yearned to be in her position?
“I think I’m in a very lucky position, actually. I get to make music with Alison, and tour that music, but without having to do all that other stuff that would usually come with it. The whole pressure about how you look and what you wear that Alison has to deal with would scare me.
“I’m more of a one-outfit-per-decade kind of guy.”
info: Head First (EMI) is out now.