Goldfrapp - Your lovely head
- Kirstin Innes
- 17 July 2008
Mildly obsessive fan Kirstin Innes pays a personal tribute to the ever-changing faces of Alison Goldfrapp
A confession: I just don't see the point of Madonna or Kylie. Sorry. I don't see that anything they've done past 1990 has had the slightest bit of relevance. Neither of them sing particularly well (although it's difficult to tell under the many topcoats of production on their voices) or write many of their own songs. They sell themselves on continual. plasticky self-reinvention, each 'new direction' stage-managed by a marketing team. Sex. Leather. Electronica. Disco. Country. Sex again. Kylie's career high, as far as I'm concerned, was embryonic feminist and mechanic Charlene Mitchell in Neighbours, and the way I feel about Madonna is encapsulated by the image of her humourlessly shaking her rump in Austin Powers' face on the 'Beautiful Stranger' video.
Or maybe it's because I'm a Goldfrapp fan, and beside the gutsy, crazy artistry of Alison Goldfrapp, they just look boring.
Alison Goldfrapp records under her own surname with instrumentalist Will Gregory, who has spent the last eight years channelling the sheer force of her creativity into ever-new sounds. Goldfrapp sound different on every album because every album – and the videos, tours and publicity shots surrounding it – is a self-contained piece of art. As frontwoman (Gregory doesn't accompany her on tour) and voice, Alison turns herself into a visual representation of the music she's making at each point in her life. As a fan, it's been a helluva ride.
Felt Mountain (2000)
'I'm not supposed/To feel/I forget who I am/I forget/Fascist baby/Utopia' ('Utopia')
Musically, the years around the turn of the century were a bit of a wasteland for me. The big hitters were bloated abstractions of the music we'd liked in the 90s, Travis and Coldplay making Britpop even more embarrassing than it was, Morcheeba sounding a bland death knell for triphop. Then, one day, at a party, there were some strange, warped screams emitting from the stereo. Majority ruled, and it was quickly removed and replaced by something like the Fun Lovin' Criminals, but the next day I battled my hangover to go into town and buy a copy of Felt Mountain. It didn't come off my stereo for a week.
When you're 20, and desperate to assert yourself, you look for grown-up role models very different from the stupid rebels of your teens. For someone who had admired the grabby antics of Justine Frischmann, Shirley Manson and Courtney Love, Alison Goldfrapp was a revelation. She refused to talk much when not singing; she made noises like eerie, operatic birdsong. She wrote intense, poetic lyrics inspired by Brave New World ('Utopia') and Mary Shelley ('Lovely Head'), and used the word 'fuck' with icy disdain. I was 20 and very serious, and I had a girl-crush.
Felt Mountain is influenced by Ennio Morricone's epic, sweeping film soundtracks (Gregory is also a film composer), and Alison became a sculpted, kiss-curled goddess from a silent movie, or Marlene Dietrich, crooning to herself to mend a broken heart. For 'Pilots' she buttoned herself into a uniform, all besieged war-time glamour.
Black Cherry (2003)
'I get high on a buzz/Then a rush/When I'm plugged in you' (from 'Strict Machine')
If Felt Mountain was music to grow up to, Black Cherry was music that you tempered everything you knew about sexuality into. Black Cherry felt like proper, filthy sexual awakening. It's something nastier and crunchier here than Felt Mountain's heroic artscapes, flirting with electroclash and dark, heavy dub. Alison appeared live with a riding crop in her hand, made a Theremin wail and shriek between her thighs, and wrote songs about her teenage sexual fantasies. 'Put your dirty angel face/ Between my legs and knicker lace,' she coos on 'Twist', before screaming out another heavy, grinding electronica-backed orgasm.
Sex. Dark, vicious sex. Alison appeared in tiny maids' uniforms, her hair blackened and streaked with blonde, her eyes made nightmare-huge with kohl as she sneered through the videos for 'Train' and 'Strict Machine'. She frizzed her hair out into wild, post-coital fuzz, let sweatshirts slip off her shoulders, tapped into the resurgence of New Wave-y 1980s fashion, created a movement.
'Switch me on/Turn it up/Don't want it Baudelaire/Just glitter lust' (from 'Ooh La La')
Supernature was where Goldfrapp went supernova. They took the sticky, sexy disco tips of Black Cherry and cubed 'em, creating classic disco pop.
We listened to it in the office, where we wore hotpants, heels and sparkly ankle socks, and strutted out to hear it remixed by Erol Alkan and Ewan Pearson at Optimo or Death Disco. Supernature is all angles, gloss and hard-lacquered schtick. It's also the album that die-hard fans tend to sneer at, probably because it's (whisper it) the most mainstream. 'Ride a White Horse' and 'Ooh La La' were big hits, and a lot of the warped, weird, frightening beauty (both lyrically and musically) that had marked the first two albums is stripped away.
There's still a big fat streak of kink running through Supernature. Alison got the name from a crazy fantasy epic by French disco legend Cerrone. The 1978 video for his song 'Supernature' (available on YouTube and highly recommended) has Cerrone stalked through the desert by men in white coats wearing unconvincing dog heads. Goldfrapp pay homage in the video for 'Number One', with Alison in a beauty salon staffed by glam poodle-headed ladies. She crawls on all fours, winks and scratches her bum. Scratching your bum suddenly becomes devastatingly sexy.
Supernature-era Alison revelled in the bigness and badness of glam rock. She pranced about in gigantic flares or pink satin romper suits on the videos, promoted the album in peacock feathers. On tour, she wore five-inch silver platforms and a cape. Or a horse's tail. Mainstream disco it might have been, but Girls Aloud have yet to pick up on this trend.
Seventh Tree (2008)
'Moments of perfection/Idle in the sunshine/Over there in yonder/In another world' (from 'Cologne Cerrone Houdini')
After all the hysteria, Goldfrapp retreated for three years, returning with such a completely different sound that you needed to train yourself to listen to it properly: the delicate, glowing intricacies of the single 'A&E' passed me by on first and second listen. Much has been made of Seventh Tree's 'folk' direction in the excellent reviews the album has received, most evident on the understated 'Little Bird', which becomes a psychedelic explosion when performed live. For the most part, Seventh Tree concentrates on creating a series of tiny, warm bits of beauty. It's an album that sounds secure, contented, grown-up and happy, and is best listened to in bed on Sunday mornings, with sunlight coming in through the window.
It's all about strange, dark, British folklore. Seventh Tree is an outdoorsy album, revisiting much of the nature imagery of Felt Mountain , so it's fitting that Alison's messy curls glow against fading sunlight in the publicity shots, hanging out in the woods like a feral changeling child. Onstage, they warm up to the Wickerman soundtrack, and Alison, barefoot in a diaphanous smock, sings from under a fairy-lit set of antlers. At Glastonbury, she pole-danced on a maypole. You can but hope, Inveraray.
Goldfrapp play the Oyster Stage, Sun.