[sic] Magazine

Goldfrapp – Head First

I’ve given up on trying to figure out what signature sound Goldfrapp is going to embrace next — they’ve gone for quirky electronica, robotic club dance, and delicate airy pop. So what do they do in ‘Head First’? Well, they’ve drifted back into dance territory, except that this brand of electronica is saturated in retro beats and swooshes.

The sound of a blast-off heralds ‘Rocket,’ a bouncy synthpop tune full of random tinkles and squidgy keyboard melodies. “Ooh oh oh, I got a rocket/oh oh oh, you’re going on it/oh oh oh, you’re never comin’ back!” Goldfrapp sings gleefully in the middle of the song.

Things get a bit more downtempo in ‘Believer,’ in which the melody flows swiftly around the staccato beats. And after that, we get a steady stream of bouncy, colorful synthpop that reeks of the 80s — the icy vocal core of ‘Alive’s’ flittery pop anthem, the hard dancy flavor of ‘Dreaming,’ the delicate night time prettiness of the titular track.

The one thing I couldn’t stomach: ‘I Wanna Life,’ a perky pop song that sounds like it was cribbed from a bad eighties musical. But there are also some interesting inclusions that are hard to classify — they introduce a twisting electronic soundscapes of ‘Hunt,’ where Alison’s vocals play second fiddle to the music. And the final song ‘Voicething’ lives up to its title, dispensing with typical vocals, and instead embracing a ghostly eerie exploration of sound.

It took awhile for me to warm up to ‘Head First’ — it’s kind of weird to have a band that has done so much cutting-edge music go back to eighties synthpop. And that’s the album’s Achilles heel — it’s completely soaked in that 80s vibe (much like M83 ‘s ‘Saturdays = Youth’), and it left me wondering, ‘… is that it? They don’t have anything new here? Just a big valentine to the eighties?’

But once you get used to it, this particular sound begins to grow on you. It’s definitely ‘shiny and warm’ — heated dance beats, shimmering layers, and undulating swathes of synth that buzzes, tinkles and whooshes like a spacebound rocket. And they dabble in some darker, more experimental songs in the second half, especially in ‘Voicething’ — it’s a musical synth journey that drifts from one plateau to the next.

And Alison Goldfrapp’s beautifully chilly voice adds a distinctive sound to the album — and she does some wonderfully weird stuff, like an entire song filled with inarticulate noises. No words at all. And the lyrics are sometimes even more vivid than the music: “Look at the trees in the dark/bending like a bony finger/Cry for the face on a little moon by the tree…”

‘Head First’ is a sleek, warm synthpop album that reeks of nostalgia, with some unique twists here and there. It’s not Goldfrapp’s best work, but still plenty of fun.