In this writer’s experience, there’s never been occasion to object to a Goldfrapp album. When Alison G and Will “Dr Beats and Mr Keys” Gregory get together, there’s always at least enough quality and taste to justify the entrance fee. Moving from lush woozy cinemascapes with sky-scraping vocals, to scuzzy disco synth monsters and back to woozy pastoralia (with – you guessed it – sky-scraping vocals), Goldfrapp stick to what they know and do best.
The reprocessed electro glitterbeat sound they nailed back with 2004’s Black Cherry, and then subsequently honed into a clinical critical stiletto with Supernature was then temporarily ditched for the lovely folktronic introspection of Seventh Tree. Since then it seems they’ve vacillated between the two states – with the occasional ethereal Felt Mountain-ish abstracted ballad thrown in for good measure. That’s not to say there haven’t been moments of delicious giddy triumph, it’s just that with each passing release, the surprises become fewer and reassuring familiarity takes ever increasing hold.
So what of Silver Eye? Well, if Goldfrapp didn’t have enough murky sensuality in the, um, murky sensuality locker, this time they’ve drafted in the likes of Bobby Krlic (aka Haxan Cloak) to help augment that murky sensuality with even more sensual murk. OK, facetiousness aside, at this stage of the game, there’s little one can do to alter the Goldfrapp soundscape. It’s been perfectly fixed in lovely, implacable amber for quite a while. The effect evinced here, you could say, is that Silver Eye is Goldfrapp, only more so. Every groove, every synth part, every vocal swoop is so utterly, assuredly Goldfrapp, as are the lyrical fixations with animal metaphor, transfiguration and dark, impenetrable fairytale telling.
Lead off track and single ‘Anymore’ is exactly how you’d imagine the lead-off track and single from Goldfrapp’s seventh album to sound – which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a thing. ‘Systemagic’ is a slightly more lumbering train, the juggernaut sexual pulse of that Black Cherry highlight slowed to a lugubrious shuffle. Well, none of us are getting any younger, are we?
As euphoric and motorik as ‘Become the One’ initially seems, it soon evaporates in clouds of obfuscating vagueness – even Alison Goldfrapp sounds bored by the end.
‘Faux Suede Drifter’ is a great meaningless/ profound Goldfrapp title. Cut-ups of THAT voice are looped in dreamy repetition, but again, five minutes is more than enough. And then, just as the downright dull ‘Zodiac Black’ meanders to conclusion, and you feel your first ever objection gaining malevolent momentum, ‘Beast that Never Was’ blindsides and bites you in the critical particulars.
To put it another way, the gently juddering percussion, cold synth washes and the best vocal performance so far pull Silver Eye back from the brink.
“I keep something back/Something back/Beast that never was/Here between two worlds”, sings Alison Goldfrapp, like she actually means it. It’s gorgeous pop, and it’s also poppingly gorgeous. Certainly the best ode to a metaphorical lycan transformation that I can think of. And I’ve heard Werewolves of London.
But it’s in the final three songs, that Silver Eye, against early dismal odds, starts making sense.
‘Everything Is Never Enough’, ‘Moon in Your Mouth’ and ‘Ocean’ feels like a suite of sorts, and it’s where Silver Eye suddenly breaks free of the enervating sense of torpor that’s hitherto pervaded. It’s a lush triptych and a coda of sorts that acts as a kind of reverse ad for everything that’s gone before, not just in Silver Eye but in the Goldfrapp canon as a whole. It feels like a “Previously in…” moment, and perhaps it’s meant to be.
The album ends with the utterly lush ‘Ocean’, and the sign off: “I borrowed bones/I borrowed skin/To save me from the hell I’m in. Your fantasy/And every time I think of you. I see the dark/I hear their hooves/They’re coming/They’re coming for you”. Dark, direct, delicious. Damn guys, now why could’t you have just said that in the first place?