When I think of Goldfrapp, I get an image in my head of some sort of cult film, in which a cigarette smoking protagonist (Clive Owen or something) hunts down a hacker/gangster/fugitive in a sexy techno underworld, at some point having it off Sienna Miller and going to one of those unrealistic secret nightclubs down an alleyway and through some shutters. As he walks through the night club towards the bar, Goldfrapp’s ‘Ooh La La’ is playing, and at some point near the end ‘Number One’ plays, probably when the day has been saved or when something particularly sexy is happening. Probably in black and white,or something.
That’s more or less what I think Goldfrapp’s work sounds like; some sort of raunchy mix between T-Rex and Moby to be found gloriously in chic gangster action films. It’s also what I want it to sound like, and whether or not you are in a similar boat to me will determine how you take to their new album, ‘Tales of Us’.
There seems to be more of a desire to tell specific stories and create characters with each track, to the extent that each track is given a person’s name, which would probably come off as a little naff (particularly track 8 ‘Stranger’) were Goldfrapp not now so established. A problem you could find with this is that each track seems to be straining to have its own identity, and as a result the album as a whole feels somewhat hollow. Each track tries to take you somewhere, but as a collective don’t get you very far.
Starting with the first track ‘Jo’ some strings sweep in before Alison Goldfrapp’s unmistakable vocals patter delicately over the top. This more simple, ambient vibe continues until track six ‘Thea’ which lifts the tempo and carries a more familiar punch underneath the wandering synths, in the process feeling more like a single than the other tracks (perhaps Thea is a bit of a spinster).
After ‘Thea’, the remaining four tracks seek to wind us back down until the crescendo of sorts, in the final track, ‘Clay’, which builds towards the end before an abrupt stop. And with that, we are left in silence to reflect on what has happened, which is in essence not an awful lot.
It’s an album much closer in comparison to their early albums, and it feels quite hard to shake off all those ominous cliches about artists ‘stripping it back’ and ‘returning to their roots’ and all that carry on. It has been done so many times and feels sort of uninspired. Reading any interviews about the album before listening to it would lead you to predict acoustic guitars and piano and an orchestra sweeping in over the top occasionally, which is exactly what you get. The result is, overall, quite a bland album which exists under the guise of being ‘more personal.’
That said, it isn’t exactly a bad album – the songs on offer are certainly armed with a lovely palette of tones and sounds, and Alison Goldfrapp’s vocals are as unique and spotless as you would expect them to be. They deserve credit for veering away from making a similar sounding album to their past couple, despite the success they have enjoyed.
Perhaps dedicated fans of Goldfrapp will really enjoy this album, and may find it easier to relate to the stories and characters that the album tries to introduce you to. More passive fans of Goldfrapp, however, will more than likely be less enthusiastic about it and will probably have no interest in returning for a second listen.