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"Excite Me, Ignite me "
Following their half-million selling debut 'Felt Mountain', Goldfrapp return with a brand new album, 'Black Cherry' due for release on Mute on 28th April.
From the electric shriek of their first release 'Lovely Head', to the glitterball glamour of their live shows, Goldfrapp have never been shy of making an entrance.
Their 2000 debut album 'Felt Mountain' was a spellbinding cocktail of dreamy narcotic moods, elements of tango and torch songs wrapped in edgy electronica. Acclaimed worldwide, it was a timeless collection that made an emphatic soundtrack to the start of the new millennium. "The sound of a bench being marked" Time Out
If the sensual world of debut album 'Felt Mountain' was infused with the scent of dark fantasy and imaginary landscapes, their new album 'Black Cherry' adds the sounds and energy of the city, the whirl of fairgrounds and the rush of desire.
'Black Cherry' still builds on their trademark experimental edges and that awesome force is every bit as evident and not a shred less relevant. From the heartbroken beauty of the title track and the inordinately sensual, disturbed purr of 'Deep Honey' to the sonic whirlpools of 'Tiptoe', 'Black Cherry' reinforces Goldfrapp's sirenlike ability to suck you into other realms. On first hearing, the driving basslines of 'Train' or 'Strict Machine', or the playfully, joyously sexual 'Twist' seem a world away from some of 'Felt Mountain''s atmospherics but anyone who witnessed the energy and potent intensity of last year's live shows would recognise the feeling behind them. As Alison remembers, "The shows often started very controlled and really intense, so it was a big release live to be able to hit things, to let go and explode".
'Human' and 'Utopia' took on new dimensions live and when the band encored with a Teutonic disco version of 70's hit 'Physical', the audiences were left shrieking with delight.
The live shows were complemented by Alison DJing around Europe from Paris to Ibiza; from Lisbon's legendary Lux club to the electronica Sonar Festival in Barcelona (scene of Goldfrapp's first ever live show), playing an eclectic mix from Hakkan Lidbo and Laidback to Baccara, Prince and, to a stunned Glastonbury Sunday, Motorhead's 'Bomber'.
Although they didn't plan it as such, when they started 'Black Cherry', the recording environment again proved crucial. Where for 'Felt Mountain' they holed up in the countryside, this time Goldfrapp opted to write and record in a darkened studio in Bath, all neon lights and darkened walls. "The closest we got to nature was a calendar on the wall, pictures of trees," explains Alison. "I drew on the walls. It was my mood board but I was also just trying to brighten the place up!"
Distilling down hours worth of jams with the synths loud and buzzing, they would gradually sculpt together the songs. After writing the darkly euphoric (first single) 'Train', Alison remembers "almost running home, I was so elated." Equally, where 'Felt Mountain' was thought out, Alison describes 'Black Cherry' as "spontaneous and perfectionist! The first time, on 'Felt Mountain', although we had beats, they were subsumed. We put a different emphasis on it. We wanted this to be less ambiguous"
The background of Weimar decadence and the desperate hedonism of New York's Studio 54 are never closer than in Goldfrapp's world. "I love disco, Donna Summer, MacArthur Park, all that stuff. On the last album people would ask 'what are your influences?' and I'd go Ennio Morricone and disco. The drama and the strings were there, even if it's not obvious."
Disco and its ability to sprinkle string-soaked glamour onto concrete and synthesise passion from tragedy makes a suitable parallel for the wonderful escapism of 'Felt Mountain' and its multi-coloured successor. A lot of 'Black Cherry' sounds like it was born on a fantasy dancefloor in an alien landscape, never mind in the fertile minds of a creative London boy and a darkly imaginative Hampshire girl.
Apart from the twisted disco of 'Strict Machine' (with its whip-like snare sound recalling the baroque fantasy of 'Felt Mountain's' title track) and 'Train', standout tracks inhabit other extremes. There's the English countrysci-fi of 'Hairy Trees', and the disorienting ennui of 'Forever' but it is in 'Tiptoe' that there is arguably found 'Black Cherry''s centrepiece. Starting with motorik rhythms and a piercing synths followed by Alison's deep down voice, 'Tiptoe' builds relentlessly until it subtly transforms itself into another song entirely, hinting at Giorgio Moroder's and Donna Summer's soundtrack to 'The Deep' and inexorably mixing voice into and through the soaring strings.
Meanwhile 'Twist', rooted in an adolescent fantasy of running off with a diesel-fingered fairground boy, is sex as candyfloss stickiness and generator buzz, all wrapped up in the wild scream of the waltzers.
Contrarily, the title track 'Black Cherry' is probably the most emotional and beautiful song Goldfrapp have ever done. "Personal stuff," sighs Alison, and won't expand.
Alison Goldfrapp grew up in the schizophrenic mix of suburbia and countryside. She was always going to be an outsider, and so it has proved. A seed for Goldfrapp's music was sown when her father played her Carmina Burana at an early age, analysing it across the breakfast table, but "I preferred Top of the Pops at the time".
From early convent school to sink estate comprehensive, suburban semi-normality to squatting in London, Alison then spent three years singing with a contemporary dance group in Belgium where she really started to realise what her voice could do and how it could relate to the live environment. All these experiences informed the decadence and escapism that often underpins the songs. At the same time she also had the drive to do her own thing, performance art whenever there was the time and a degree in fine art.
In a parallel universe, Will Gregory - son of a Covent Garden chorus girl who bombarded his childhood with classical and The Beatles - headed off to America with a plan to play saxophone properly. Dropped off in San Francisco, he learned to play in bars. Various bands followed but bored on the tour bus, he started composing soundtracks - notably the score for nineties hooligan film ID. Then, one day, a friend gave him a tape containing Alison's nearly fully written version of 'Human', one of the standouts on 'Felt Mountain'. As Will puts it, with characteristic understatement, "There was something about her voice".
Signing to Mute in 1999, working on 'Felt Mountain' brought together their favourite musics from Moroder to Morricone, a loathing of compromise, an ability to think visually rather than in terms of B flats and, undoubtedly, the unique recording environment of the remote Wiltshire bungalow with mice scuttling in the roof. Thus, the resulting mood of the album: a cinematic place awash with the ghosts of a previous life, curtains twitching in the suburbs, love songs twisted with utopian future hints of disturbance.
Critically acclaimed around the world, 'Felt Mountain' made a major impact in both Europe and America. NME described it as 'top hallucinatory pop. Deliriously good'. Muzik magazine hailed it as "a must", where Rolling Stone described the album as simply "awesome". Critics began to suggest that what we were seeing was, at long last, an intelligent, eloquent, fascinating and mercurial woman emerging from British pop. Something welcome, in these current times of vacuous celebrity.
The Alison Goldfrapp of 'Black Cherry' is a different persona from the one unveiled on 'Felt Mountain'. She's "happier" on this album and 'Black Cherry' hits like a coming of age explosion of colour and noise and of a lust for life.
The magic of Goldfrapp's appeal is still potent and suggestive with the mystery, the sense of something below the surface, being just tantalisingly out of reach. Despite the apparent playfulness 'Black Cherry' also has an undercurrent of a fizzing, insistent itch that probably goes deeper than what Will describes as the "heavy atmosphere" where they recorded, "with the bad air staying down in the valley".
With 'Black Cherry' they entwine classic songwriting with the most abstract of modern music, making a bold statement in an increasingly fractured world.
Goldfrapp have again managed to pull off that rarest of feats, the ability to attain an intensity of expression and to be both futuristic and familiar. They have made this territory their own.