Goldfrapp's Silver Eye is a familiar seventh album for the duo
Highly recommended, but by-the-numbers
As a musician, Alison Goldfrapp makes a good force of nature. The agelessness of her mono-named recording persona is a pleasing thing, allowing her to walk a lyrical tightrope between innocent, youthful observation and a richer, more entrenched level of experience. And this music is very much about her own persona, of course – Will Gregory's in there too, but the duo's seven albums (including this one) since 2000 have used Goldfrapp as the front for their performance pop art project.
Yet in adopting that persona – Goldfrapp's musical identity, more than the striking visual imagery built around her/them – a certain inflexibility sets in; it needs to be shed, Bowie-like, in order to be renewed. Gradually Goldfrapp have given it a go, with 2013's lush and all-too-human experiment in folksy electronica Tales of Us representing a hairpin switch from their normal sound and back to the airy digital expanses of the 2000 debut Felt Mountain. With 'Anymore', the first single and opening track from Silver Eye, it appears that the experiment is over for the moment.
'Give me your love / make me a freak / I can't wait any more,' breathes Goldfrapp over a clinically sexual synth grind of the sort which established her as the doyenne of austere, vaguely scary disco-pop on 2003's career-maker Black Cherry. There's more of this on 'Systemagic', and it may not be just the sound of the title being sung which reminds of the Pointer Sisters' 'Automatic', albeit icy electro cold. 'Tigerman' breaks the tempo but not the mood, a swirling ballad draped around monolithic peaks of Korg bass note, and there's a suggestion of John Carpenter to the crunchy riff of 'Become the One'. 'Become the one / you know who you are,' breathes Goldfrapp, a benign Snow Queen, calling her listener on into their true identity.
Goldfrapp are an experience it's proven physically impossible for the halfway open-minded listener to become bored with, but that's not to say they don't tread over old ground. The early stages of this record are pleasing in their familiarity and in the accuracy of their pure pop creation, but it's in the later, less ear-catching sequences that we hear something less by-the-numbers. 'Faux Suede Drifter' wrongfoots us, its initial out-of-joint notes reminding of Throbbing Gristle before scaling the heights of understated love balladry. 'Zodiac Black' proves more efficiently discordant and 'Beast That Never Was' is stark and personal, and perhaps muses on Goldfrapp's own approach to art: 'keep something back / for the beast that never was / here between two worlds.'
She returns to sleek Europop for 'Everything is Never Enough' and straddles the worlds between trip-hop and Pet Shop Boys on 'Moon in Your Mouth', a claim not many artists could capably make, and on the closing 'Ocean' she sings compelling, starkly of a sense of rootlessness and ways lost and found through romance and lust. Silver Eye is just another Goldfrapp album, and that's a high recommendation.
Silver Eye by Goldfrapp is out now on Mute Records.