y Caitlin Cowan
Daily Arts Writer
What does the new Goldfrapp album sound like? Look at the cover of Seventh Tree and you’ll have your answer.
The band has some of the most telling cover art around. The duo of singer/keyboardist Alison Goldfrapp and composer Will Gregory has released four full-length albums to date, and each has its own eerie art. Felt Mountain is as dramatic and eccentric as the mirror image of Alison’s face – eyelashes heavy with thick, black mascara – that graces its cover. Black Cherry and Supernature, the band’s glam albums, both use similar aesthetics. On the former, Alison wears a Clockwork Orange-like bowler, surrounded by multicolored spangles. On the latter, she appears naked and turned coyly to the side in front of a glittery black curtain.
Goldfrapp’s latest release, Seventh Tree, is much different. Alison appears on the cover wearing a feathered pirate hat and a peasant blouse, and the blurred gold and green background gives the artwork a dreamy, outdoorsy feel. At the angle she is photographed from, she looks a bit like child star-turned-Bohemian-celebutante Mary Kate Olsen.
Accordingly, the album delivers everything it promises on its face. Goldfrapp moves away from the dirty, sexy beats of Supernature and Black Cherry to create a disc full of low-key, wistful music that’s suited more to the background than the foreground.
“Clowns” is majestic and mellow, setting the tone for the album. Alison’s voice sounds pure and sweet over the undulating acoustic strums, but the dullness that pervades the album sets in too soon, invading even the first track. Along with “Little Bird” and “Happiness,” the first part of the album hovers tenuously above a sleepy state. Its beautiful, atmospheric melodies are bogged down in the same too-slow tempo track after track.
The middle is the strongest section of Seventh Tree. “A & E” is the jewel of the album. Though the structure is fairly conventional, what goes on behind Goldfrapp’s lilting voice is magic: The blend of keyboard, acoustic strums and bass blips creates an otherworldy ambiance far more sophisticated than its simplistic lyrics. “Caravan Girl,” the only up-tempo track on the album, is bouncy and bright, though its ’80s feel comes out of nowhere on an album filled with ethereal, ’60s sounds. “Cologne Cerrone Houdini” encapsulates the mood of the disc as a whole, and its lush composition complements Alison’s voice as it soars over the highest notes.
Alison’s voice has always been the main feature on Goldfrapp’s albums. But without the quirkiness of the electronic distortions and manipulations often made to her voice on other albums, her raw vocal ability is under more scrutiny here. And although she sings beautifully, she comes through as more mediocre than ever on Seventh Tree.
If Goldfrapp had made another glam electronica album, they would have flopped. Now, they’ve made a new and different album, and still it seems that they’ve stumbled. The duo’s talent is not in question, even on this less-than-stellar album. At its best, Seventh Tree is rich and gorgeous, but at its worst, it sounds like airy, space-age Muzak. There are simply too many dead branches on Goldfrapp’s Seventh Tree to put it in a league with their other striking albums.
3 out of 5 stars