For those that haven't followed Goldfrapp closely, the 2008 transformation of the British duo from sultry purveyors of silky electro-pop to folksy troubadours with a sudden knack for psychedelic pastoralism might have been a surprising one. The one constant of the group, however, has been a sense of adventure: The move was fueled by Allison Goldrapp's alleged boredom with the characters she had created on Black Cherry and Supernature. That's why it's so puzzling to see them come back to the sound that most thought they had abandoned for good on Head First, their fifth album.
When you're as proficient as Goldfrapp at producing little synth-pop pearls, you should never shy away from it. Goldfrapp's only flaw on Head First is that they haven't self-indulged enough. The album's lead single, "Rocket," joyfully telescoped Kim Carnes and Van Halen while simultaneously displaying a distanced irony and wholehearted merrymaking. It's duplicated on obvious future single "Believer," the elegant "Dreaming" and the shameless "I Wanna Life." Each surpass Goldfrapp's own penultimate "Number 1" single in terms of gracious, electrofied songwriting.
"Shiny and Warm," however, predictably ventures into the kind of cabaret-like boogie they once displayed on "Satin Chic," while "Hunt" and the title track have the glacial overtones of their early songs, which makes you wonder why they didn't explore the brash synthetic vibe further. The only moment they deviate from this self-imposed format is on album closer "Voicething," a surprisingly avant-garde instrumental piece that uses Allison's varied cooing to create the kind of adventurous electronic music explored by Laurie Anderson in the '80s.
In a recent piece for The Guardian, Simon Reynolds noticed (lamented?) how the previous decade seemed like a long '80s-like revival that started with Discovery and "Emerge" and ended with "Bulletproof" and Delphic. On the basis of Head First, it seems it's far from over, and it might just never be. Nonetheless, this album sounds a bit like the revival needs a new idea or two. Bar that bright pink one-suit jumper, those thunderous poses and the occasional encapsulation of pop's own genetic map, Head First is the sound of a restrained Goldfrapp. Other contemporary revivalists are rarely accused of the same. I guess this is what they call maturity.
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Tracklist: Goldfrapp - Head First 01. Rocket
05. Head First
07. Shiny And Warm
08. I Wanna Life