Electro-pop got a massive ladleful of edgy groove when Goldfrapp, the duo of vocalist Alison Goldfrapp and synthman Will Gregory came out of the critically appreciated scene to the open wide spaces of the dance floor in their 2005 album, Supernature. Infectious and glamrock-infected tracks like ‘Ooh la la’ got me remembering the days when I had a Debbie Harry poster on my wall — the only lady in the room. The more folksy-pop 2008 Seventh Tree left me wanting more of the in-your-face hookline pop.
Well, Goldfrapp’s latest album Head First, is certainly synth-laden pop, but the hooklines, the trip-hop of the early days seem to have been left for good — except in some small windows of flashes and that too because I’m expecting something from the gene pool. There’s nothing wrong with ‘Rocket’, the opening track that takes its arms and legs (and plunges on the keyboard) from Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ and the rest of the body from a compilation of Heart songs.
‘Believer’, with its deadpan staccato is more believable as a 2010 group working on their post-modern skills in collecting 80s tracks. The nifty tune of ‘Alive’ that follows has a passing resemblance to the 1969 ‘Spinning Wheels’ by Blood, Sweat & Tears. The next track, ‘Dreaming’, is far more interesting, as it seems to make sense even as I sit and write this far away from any throbbing lights and bobbing bass in a club at the deep end of a packed night. Alison hushes up as she rides the perky notes, taking the more transient-ambient route. With your eyes closed, you could replicate the feeling of a head swimming.
The Abba-like non-nonsense directness of the title track is disarming. ‘Hunt’ does the same but with an Olivia Newton-John feeling to it. The bop drops in ‘Shiny and warm’, a flirty flight of fancy with the chorus line “Shiny and warm” strangely sounding like “Shane Warne” to my excited ears.
By the time I reach ‘I wanna life’, I’m a bit exhausted by the retro-ness of the whole affair. It’s one thing to inject mummies with life; it’s quite another to do the same with what sounds like pedestrian 80s sappy pop. Perhaps, Goldfrapp has found that there is a demand for this kind of bordering on ‘casual boredom’ music. I, frankly, prefer their earlier stuff where I got something more out of the tracks than just an interactive lesson in pop history.
Monkey Ship, Monkey Do
Gorillaz takes us on board their sea-faring voyage in their latest album Plastic Beach, a funk, hip and hop technicoloured sonic seascape. Get your snorkeling gear out as you hit the breakers in ‘Welcome to the world of the Plastic Beach’ (don’t worry about the orchestral intro at the start) that has Snoop Dogg laying out the plank. In ‘White flag’, we get into the harder core, the folksy flutes’n’Arabic strings and percussion leading into an urban hymn by Brit hip-hop artist Bashy and electro-disco man Kano.
Gorillaz beat their chest to come out with a more familiar sound in ‘Rhinestone eyes’, Damon Albarn lazily drawling away the notes. The gear changes in ‘Stylo’ (that ‘car chase’ video with Bruce Willis in it). The phat bass line is grimy and runs through the track like a fast train ride with the DJ Mos Def doing the vocal honours. ‘Superfast Jellyfish’ has Gorillaz jamming with American hip-hop group De La Soul and Welsh big-jawed singer Gruff Rhys giving a popsicle taste to the whole concoction. A little lounge music done Blur-style comes in ‘Empire Ants’ with Damon and Swedish singer Yukimi Nagano (Little Dragon) stirring the drinks while the music pops, sparkles and fades.
The rockblockin’ beats of ‘Glitter freeze’ with The Fall’s Mark E. Smith’s post-punk musings gets the balaclava-kaffiya gear out. Lou Reed comes onstage in ‘Some kind of nature’ to bring a gritty vaudeville act that sounds two-part Kurt Weill, one-part Iggy Pop.
Songs like ‘On Melancholy Hill’, ‘Broken’ and even the frenetic Mos Def-helped ‘Sweepstakes’ are ambient-driven. Plastic Beach is an old-style album, making the listener fit into a mood — a journeyman’s mood — and the journey seems to be the destination. Because after the album stops, I can’t remember any of the tunes I heard.