First Impressions: Goldfrapp Lighten Up and Soak In The 80's Glow

Monday, March 22, 2010

Strap on and blast off into the shimmering glitter and neon goop of the 1980's with Goldfrapp as they act like tour guides, navigating you through a sparkling array of updated synthesized nostalgia on their fifth installment, Head First.

Ten years ago, Goldfrapp emerged out of nowhere with their spooky soundtrack for spy noir flicks entitled Felt Mountain. Mountain was an ambitious and highly imaginative set that was heavy on the beats and heavily not run-of-the-mill. Goldfrapp strove to be the outliers of Electronica music, making inventive sounds and intricate beats that didn't make them just another cheese busting pop act, they were much more sophisticated. 

Now for 2010, after the somber homespun folk of 2008's Seventh Tree, the duo have lighten the load and literally take a walk in the clouds (hence the album artwork) and downplay the spookiness that brought intrigued admirers. Head First is no joke massively influenced by early 80's New Wave, and massive is the keyword because you can no doubt hear it from the potent jolt of opener "Rocket", which sets the tone of the record from the jump. Going in at a mere nine tracks, Head First's condensed formula is understandable, as each song is massively crafted and delivered, and an overload would've seemed pretentious.

Playing like British New Wave, influences like Depeche Mode, Eurythmics, ABC, Human League etc. are splashed all over Head First. Even a smidgen of ABBA for some pop spice is present and it's not to be ignored.
"Dreaming" eerily picks up where the Eurythmics' left off the staunch classic, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" as it's hypnotic and is drizzled in a dreary mindset.

The same ideal is used on the creepy crawly, "Hunt" which marches steadfastly along on sinister plod.

The piano chords that back-up the boisterous "Alive" feel Billy Joel, even Alison's vocal phrasings take on the Piano Man's, that is until the song dives into a swirling vortex of synth blips and bleeps and then it's all Goldfrapp. "Alive" isn't alone in bringing the warmth as the title track cheerily chirps along as does the persistent tumble of "Believer". 

Pulsating like a zippy arena rock anthem, "I Wanna Life" persistently drives onward, taking all comers. Even Alison Goldfrapp's vocals peak excitedly on this, almost like a toned down Pat Benetar this side of "Invincible". It's is massively great and best concoction next to, "Rocket".

Incidentally, you've heard Head First before. As this plays like a "guess who had this sound back in the 80's" game, and by chances you'll be right with your picks as there is a layering of influences right from the Van Halen-esque "Rocket" to the obvious Kate Bush inspired epic instrumental anthem "Voicething". Still there is something so deliciously satisfying about this record, especially if you're a fan of that big 80's synth sound that you'll become engrossed in the waterfall of sounds rushing at you that it won't feel like recall.

Like Ladyhawke's 2008 vintage perfect self-titled debut, Goldfrapp's Head First is merely a tribute disguised as something 'shiny and new', though it shouldn't be disengaging as it's sharper than anything that tries to emulate what the synth decade was about musically. Sure this isn't Goldfrapp being their most oddball or even doing the sneering cold disco shoulder  they are known for, but in some strange way this was the first Goldfrapp album I could get through without pausing and coming back to later on. Not to say that their previous efforts were shoddily compiled as 2003's Black Cherry is the best thing they've ever done, but Head First is accessible due to how simple it was derived and possibly the most easy to digest out of all previous releases. Ambitious it is not, but satisfying, it's guilty as sin.

Rating: 9.4/10
Release Date: March 23, 2010

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