The most versatile and glitteringly brilliant pop band of our new millennium.
Jaime Gill 2012-02-01
One of the many fascinating things about Goldfrapp throughout their 12-year career has been the impossibility of pinning them down. Emerging from trip-hop’s ashes, debut Felt Mountain dealt in moody, manicured atmospherics, purpose-built for adverts and dinner parties. Then came their dramatic, wildly successful volte-face into Black Cherry’s sleazy, scuzzy electro. Just as they seemed to have settled down as dancefloor dominators with Supernature they mutated again, into the semi-acoustic, mumbling melancholy of Seventh Tree. This singles retrospective finally offers a chance to assess their wayward career as a whole. It makes one thing absolutely clear: whatever else they were up to, Goldfrapp have always delivered astonishing pop singles.
From the moment the swaggering Ooh La La begins its slow-building throb from the speakers until the moment the hushed, stunned Black Cherry staggers to its tear-stained denouement, Singles offers a master-class in how to write pop songs as alluring and adventurous in their sonic texture as they are addictive melodically. Alison Goldfrapp’s greatest achievement hasn’t been her power and range, which she has often concealed, but her willingness to surrender her voice to the needs of the songs she and Will Gregory so lovingly assembled. She’s the anti-Aguilera, enemy of X Factor showboaters everywhere.
On one of their biggest hits, the stately synth prowl of Number 1, Goldfrapp barely breaks a vocal sweat, restraining herself to a seductive, low-key purr throughout. It’s only in the dying seconds of Utopia, a song that is somehow both sinister and almost unbearably beautiful, that she finally unleashes an operatic wail so electrifying it paralyses the listener. Elsewhere, on the ravishing fusion of Moroder disco, glam strut and snarling electronica that is Strict Machine, Goldfrapp is all gasps, gulps and sexual ecstasy, while on Rocket she goes for the pop jugular, slamming home the monster "wo-oh-oh" chorus with glorious nonchalance.
It’s perhaps inevitable that a singles collection smoothes out the awkward edges and perversity that made Goldfrapp vastly more intriguing than their rivals, and which have profoundly influenced our best new pop stars, from Lady Gaga to Robyn. Only the buzz-saw synths that carry the lurching Train along and the shredding electronic howls that shatter Lovely Head’s narcotic sleepiness remind us of how deliciously odd they could be. If the lovely but meandering new songs Yellow Halo and Melancholy Sky are anything to go by, it’s an oddity that Goldfrapp may have left behind anyway.
Still, even minor criticisms of this collection seem not just churlish but flat-out ungrateful. Fourteen songs that veer between the perfect and the merely outstanding, The Singles is proof that Goldfrapp have been the most versatile and most consistently, glitteringly brilliant pop band of our new millennium.