“We’ve never liked repeating ourselves,” says singer Alison Goldfrapp, talking about her latest album with Will Gregory. Only, that’s not entirely true, is it?
Eight albums into their career, and 17 years after their debut, a definite pattern has emerged. A kind of musical tick/tock. On the ‘tick’ we have the contemplative soundscapes. Felt Mountain (2000) provides the primary source, but 2014’s Tales of Us and 2008’s Seventh Tree also drink from the same cup. And there’s the ‘tock’, the club-friendly electronica. Black Cherry (2003) set the template with its sleazy synth and whip-crack beats, but it was followed by the disco glam-rock of Supernature (2005) and, now, Silver Eye, albeit in a more strung out fashion.
There is another story, too. One that saw their career start in the indie shadows, before channelling the zeitgeist into pop success. But by the time the big selling Head First (2010) came out, bursting with a saccharine sound that had clearly raided the pop library marked “guilty pleasures”, there was a definite sense of the shark having been jumped; chart glory was being chased a bit too hard.
So, it was a good thing that subsequent releases saw them turn off that road and slink back into something more cerebral.
Silver Eye continues that trend. If Head First represented Goldfrapp’s summer of love, then Silver Eye is surely their Altamont festival, the 1969 gathering which many regard as the end of innocence of the 1960s. The group’s sunny optimism has all but faded away into psychedelic, noirish introspection. It’s Black Cherry’s older, more knowing brother. The one who’s lived life harder, wilder and stranger.
Lyrically, there are several themes that run throughout – the two most prominent being “the night” (a time when normality traditionally weakens its hold) and “love” – well, the irrational, deranged kind anyway. It leaves lots to think about, and plenty of great music to do it to.
While perhaps sagging a little towards the end – weighed down by the claustrophobic washes of synth – overall this is a strong album and it compliments the rest of Goldfrapp’s back catalogue well. Alison’s voice still sounds like one of the best things in pop – although in this case, we’re definitely talking about magic of the darker kind.
* Joe Heaney