Tales Of Us

Few artists possess the chutzpah and imagination to perennially reinvent themselves as successfully as Goldfrapp have done in a career encompassing baroque torch song balladry, Schaffel-beat glam, pastoral folk and Moroder-influenced electro-pop. If the duo’s genre-defying dilettantism hasn’t always been met with universal approval (the glitzy, ephemeral pop stylings of last album Head First divided critics beguiled by the understated charms of predecessor Seventh Tree), they’ve at least retained an aura of mystique, fuelled by an enduring curiosity about which direction Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory will turn next in their musical odyssey.

It’s something of a surprise then, to discover that sixth album Tales Of Us sounds as close as you can get to quintessential Goldfrapp, if such a thing exists. Musically, it feels like a conscious retreat from the creative cul-de-sac of Head First into more artistically fertile territory, an attempt to re-assert the duo’s noir-ish, avant-garde credentials following their flirtation with a more commercial sound. There are clear callbacks to debut album Felt Mountain and Seventh Tree, their pagan folk opus, but the lush cinematic soundscapes showcased on this album also call to mind their scores for British indie films My Summer Of Love and Nowhere Boy.

Thematically, Tales Of Us has the feel of a song cycle to it: all but one of these ten songs have Christian name titles, and the lyrics teem with a macabre narrative intrigue. Literary references abound – the eerie, spine-tingling lament ‘Annabel’ is inspired by the Kathleen Winter novel of the same name about a hermaphrodite forced to assume a male identity, whilst Alison has cited gothic novelist Patricia Highsmith as a key influence behind these dark, twisted vignettes. Gregory’s musical palette is narrower than on previous outings, with the glacial, falsetto-driven electronica of ‘Thea’ the sole concession to Goldfrapp’s dance oeuvre amidst the maudlin strings and sparse piano accompaniments. But Alison’s rich, luxurious vocals are as exquisitely evocative as ever, full of enigmatic lustre and breathless erotic potency. On the luminously beautiful ‘Drew’, she conveys a vivid, dreamlike nostalgia against a backdrop of sumptuous Scott Walker-esque flourishes. ‘Stranger’ channels Ennio Morricone, a haunting, exotic soundtrack to an imaginary Western; closer ‘Clay’ strikes a rare upbeat note, a stately end-of-the-pier paean to forbidden love with a poignant twist – it’s based on a doomed romance between two male soldiers during WWI.

Tales Of Us is a defiantly uncommercial album, self-consciously "mature" at times and perhaps destined to alienate the section of Goldfrapp’s fanbase more enamoured with their electro-glam-meets-Weimar cabaret dancefloor hits. If Head First was the sound of a band intoxicated by pop’s giddy, infectious euphoria, Tales Of Us feels like the sobering reality check of the morning after, an intimate collection of fireside confessionals which weave their spell on you with a slow-burning intensity, seducing the listener by stealth.

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