Planet of sound

Goldfrapp - The Singles

(Parlophone )

MUSICALLY SPEAKING - and strictly musically speaking - we live in a time of plenty as over the past five years indie/alternative has undergone a creative renaissance.

Since 2007 there has been the rise and/or emergence of Bon Iver, Wild Beasts, Fleet Foxes, The Horrors, Avi Buffalo, Port O’Brien, The National, Villagers, O Emperor, Local Natives, Grizzly Bear, Passion Pit...to name but a few. To take a line from Paul Simon, “these are the days of miracle and wonder” with an abundance of great bands creating music of quality and value. The only complaint - if it is that - is that it is a challenge to keep up with all that is out there and all that is about to emerge.

It is in sharp contrast to the 2000-2005 period, which must rank as one of the nadir eras of popular music. It was as if, after the incredible creative explosion of the 1990s - a run of imagination and daring which ran from Sonic Youth’s Goo to Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s There Is A Darkness - the progressive end of popular music was unable to carry on the momentum and unwilling to aim for the lofty heights the preceding decade reached.

Acts who survived the transition into the noughties (Bonnie, PJ Harvey, Lambchop, Daft Punk ) could still be counted on, but in terms of new/emerging bands it was a frightening wasteland.

Indie/alternative died a death as the world seemed to lunge towards the ‘Mr DJ’ culture (how many songs back then had that phrase in their lyrics? ), boybands, ‘bling, blunts’n’bitches’ hip-hop, and the ghastly elevator music of Norah Jones.

All alternative rock could offer was Jet’s ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl?’ (a great number, but a throwback to 1960s R&B, and their only good song ); The Strokes (solid, but thoroughly retro, strangely praised for the kind of backward looking rock Ocean Colour Scene were condemned for the 1990s ); and Coldplay (would you believe their first two albums could qualify as alternative? ).

It is no exaggeration to say you could count the number of genuinely arresting bands on your fingers from that period - The White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand, The Libertines, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Goldfrapp. The fact there were so few made the aforementioned all the more special.

The White Stripes would make the world ready again for the blues; Franz Ferdinand and The Libertines would herald the re-birth of guitar bands and indie-rock; while Goldfrapp flew the flag for electro-pop.

So why should Goldfrapp be considered as among this elite? In terms of songs, image, album cover art, and costume, the duo were striking both musically and visually. Singer Alison Goldfrapp mixed English sauciness, Wiemar-era glamour, teasing sexiness, and impossible aloofness which she revelled in in her songs, photoshoots, videos, and concerts.

Indeed there is a case to be made for her as a kind of forerunner to Lady Gaga in that everything she did was an expression of her art while her personality and private life remained in the background. On keyboard duties was the classically trained Will Gregory who, in contrast, looked like a dusty science lecturer who had not seen the light of day since appearing on a 1970s edition of Tomorrow’s World.

The band’s music contained all these wonderful personality traits/personas along with the unusual fusion of the glam rock stomp of T Rex with the cool, detached, sophistication of electro-pop. This was best heard on the excellent albums Black Cherry (2003 ) and Supernature (2005 ). By their fourth release Seventh Tree (2008 ), the pair would introduce a pastoral psychedelia that provided further witness to their talents. Goldfrapp could do retro, but unlike The Strokes, they were not about rehashing the riffs of their favourite bands. Goldfrapp took 1970s sounds and 1920s glamour and bent and shaped them into a form which suited themselves.

Yes the spirit of Marc Bolan pervades the great ‘Oh La La’, but it still sounded original due to Alison’s lyrical delivery of intimidating and uninhibited lust and the manner in which Gregory turned a blues riff, one used countless times before (eg, ‘Green Onions’, ‘Higher Ground’ ), into a robotic funk pulse, and somehow managed to make it fresh, was Goldfrapp all over.

In short, influences were a springboard for Goldfrapp’s own creativity, not an end in themselves, and certainly no one else was combining the glam, blues, and electro/dance, another factor which made the duo stand out. Listening to The Singles, the new 14-track compilation summing up the band’s first decade, brings all this back. The Singles takes two songs apiece from their five albums thus far and provides a highly enjoyable and welcome summation of everything that makes them tick.

Alongside ‘Oh La La’, other highlights are the pulsating ‘Ride A White Horse’, the cynical faux-hippy dippy ‘Happiness’, and the signature Goldfrapp glam/blues meets electro hybrid of ‘Train’ and ‘Strict Machine’. They also have a way with ballads (eg ‘Lovely Head’ ), due in no small part of Alison’s sexy vocals.

The duo is still a going concern, as The Singles features two new songs (both ballads ), which acts as a taster to Goldfrapp’s sixth album on which they are currently working.

 

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