Goldfrapp

When the Glitter's Gone

Apr 02, 2008 Spring 2008 - Flight of the Conchords
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For any songwriter who spends hours slaving over chord progressions and notebooks full of crossed-out scribbles and half-baked ideas, the thought of an artist who is so prolific that even dreams give birth to new creations is an infuriating concept. Consider “Yesterday,” arguably Paul McCartney’s crowning achievement as a pop balladeer, a song whose melody was composed while Sir Paul slept. Or take Townes Van Zandt’s classic “If I Needed You,” a bittersweet promise of fidelity that was written—lyrics and all—while the late troubadour was unconscious. Add to that list Seventh Tree, the latest album from Goldfrapp, an appropriately somnambulant exploration of warmly enveloping textures and half-remembered dreams.

“I did what it told me to do,” says Alison Goldfrapp, discussing a particularly lucid dream involving a forest, a spa, and a group of ladies who told her that the fourth Goldfrapp album would be titled Seventh Tree. “I asked them, and I told them some of the other ideas that I had, and they said they were rubbish. They said, ‘Go back out to the tree,’ which had ‘seven’ on it. They said, ‘You have to call it that,’” she recalls very soberly. “I can’t argue with that.”

Dream language permeates the album, often giving the listener the impression that the narrator is hovering over the scene, watching events unfold with eyes closed. There are blurry, pilled-out fantasies where the narrator dances her pain away in a backless dress (“A&E”) and a grudging acknowledgment of age and the passage of time (“Some People”). There are folkish odes to breaking earth’s gravity and escaping to the moon, joined by a crow with two mouths for eyes (“Little Bird”). More than anything, though, Seventh Tree is a retreat into the English countryside, an album as austere and pastoral as the previous two Goldfrapp albums were preening and full of dance floor swagger. Here, the icy and ethereal synthesizers from 2000’s Felt Mountain make a pronounced return, balanced for the first time by acoustic guitars and harps. It’s not exactly Goldfrapp unplugged, but Seventh Tree has a bit of textural dirt under its fingernails, an intimate modern amalgam of British folk music and psychedelic chamber pop.

“We have always tried to avoid the acoustic thing,” admits Will Gregory, the other half of Goldfrapp. “We’ve always felt that we’ve made specific sounds for specific songs and they’re often electronic. They’re often just one-off events or accidents—someone trips over a keyboard and makes a specific sound. To be asked to do it with piano, bass, and drums, it’s a bit like playing golf in a car park instead of on a green. It wasn’t the point of what we were doing,” he says, explaining that the requests for an acoustic Goldfrapp set continued unabated. “Finally, we got dragged kicking and screaming into a studio to do it, and we absolutely loved it!” he laughs. “It was nice to make real sounds in a real space with a real human volume. We should do more of it. We could sit around the campfire with a synthesizer, but you don’t tend to very often. But what we liked was playing at a level which wasn’t super amplified and felt cozy and warm.”

That said, Seventh Tree is a stark departure from the neon-drenched synth-pop of 2003’s Black Cherry and 2005’s Supernature, two albums that were unrelenting in their uniformly glammy disco sheen. But as the duo was coming off of a commercial peak, with Supernature going platinum in England and their “Ooh La La” scoring the band’s first Top 5 single, they had reasons to go back to those highly stylized blueprints again. To make such a hard left turn, right when their commercial fortunes were turning, was a risky venture. Couldn’t their stylistic makeover have waited a few years?

“There was a few times I said to Will, ‘Fucking hell! Do you think anyone is going to want to listen to this?’” Goldfrapp laughs. “But we carried on because we liked it. I thought my mom might buy it. It’s quite amazing, because the first people who heard what we were doing were our record company, and we thought, ‘Oh, God, they’re just going to tell us to go away and start all over again.’ But they were actually nothing but supportive of us. I don’t think we really like sticking to a formula. Once you find a formula, you just want to get away from it, really.”

In doing so, the duo seems to have arrived at a place that allows them to explore yet another side of their creative identity, and after ten years and four albums, they appear to be in no jeopardy of losing touch with the kinds of ideas that can only come from dreams. “We’re very open to the unplanned,” Gregory says. “We’re both ready for it when it happens.”



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