My relationship with Goldfrapp has been a rocky one. Often I want to like something they do but am generally underwhelmed. I could make a fantastic album with tracks from all their previous efforts but it’s very hit and miss. That’s why I waited until Tales of Us was on special before I bought it. However all is not as it seems. Goldfrapp goes organic… and it works.
Opening with the stop/start “Jo” we have thick pianos, Alison’s voice pushed to the front and left bare and open – we have pure melody. It’s warm, soft, velvety and delicious. This warmth and feeling is only amplified in “Annabell” that uses acoustic guitar and sweeping strings to wash you away with its relatively simple delights. It has a very individual sound to it, where it’s inviting but melancholy. The production has a vintage analogue roundness to it and that only enhances the experience. “Drew” has more pace and some percussion involved as the string arrangement picks up into a chilly but dramatic low thud. Alison’s vocal never fluctuates. It is calm, relaxed and introspective. It grounds the track and makes its memorable.
“Ulla” has a warping to the piano like it was recorded on a warm cassette. This track feels like it should be played at a log fire at Christmas. The album has a winter high frequency to it in general. “Alvar” is possibly my favourite track on the album as its got a complexity and a wood element to it that gives it an ethnic undertone. It has a catchy chorus and a growing menace that never fully bears out but there’s a strength in the guitars and low vocals that is missing from much of the rest of the album. “Thea” is also a standout for introducing muted electronica elements to the album in a way that feels natural and groovy. The album has a lack of bass and when the kick beat finally pops up here it feels like a sonic shift. Indeed – it’s the first song with proper drums in!
“Simone” has an antique coldness to it. The guitar melody is played so quietly and muted that it sounds grammar phone induced. It plays to the darker side of the album as the strings brood below the more passionate vocals and the final chorus feels climactic as all the instruments come together. “Stranger” then takes the keyboard and shuffle beat to get as close to lounge music a Goldfrapp album will ever be. It’s very close to “Felt Mountain” the debut album of Alison. “Laurel” is smoky and jazzy. It holds a single chord on the piano for most of the track as the vibraphone and strings transform into a 1930’s jazz club setting. I’m sure I could hear vinyl pops and hisses. The album closes out with “Clay” which feels a little brighter as its cheerful acoustic chords are plucked.
It’s the most coherent album of Goldfrapp’s to date. It’s very beautiful to listen to even if a lot of the songs sound quite similar. I enjoy it best in 3 or 4 song bursts but finally I have an album by the diva herself that I can enjoy the majority of and not token tracks. Maybe it’ll help the rest grow now too…