Goldfrapp Black Cherry

[Mute; 2003]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: downtempo, trip hop, synth-pop, electro, lounge
Others: Portishead, Combustible Edison, Broadcast, Garbage, Berlin

I must admit, much to my chagrin, that I was considerably disappointed by the dramatic musical departure Allison Goldfrapp and Co. have undertaken since the release of their previous outing, Felt Mountain. Granted, Goldfrapp will never again be saddled with the pejorative comparison “Portishead Lite,” but still, this was by no means what I expected to hear. My first response, upon hearing the opening bars of their new record, Black Cherry, was, “Oh, for crying out loud…Allison’s gone and joined the information age and discovered Marilyn Manson!” Parts of the album almost sound as if they were produced by Trent Reznor sometime between the release of Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral. Goldfrapp’s page on the wonderful web music resource cites several of their roots and influences as: Angelo Badalamenti, Ennio Morricone, John Barry, Barry Adamson, Ute Lemper, Shirley Bassey, and Burt Bacharach. Well…not any more!  Any vestigial torch-jazz, cabaret, or Bristolian trip-hop influences have been completely shed for Goldfrapp’s second studio album proper. The band have taken a complete 180-degree turn from the lounge-flavored stylings of their debut record. 

Black Cherry opens with “Crystalline Green,” a straightforward, completely electronic song with crunchy, distorted beats and production reminiscent of late-80s “industrial.” The keyboard melody on this track is in the form of a pulsing, old school techno rhythm that might not have sounded out of place on Yaz’s debut album, Upstairs at Eric’s. The second track, “Train” is in more or less the same vein. “Black Cherry,” the album’s third and title track, is probably closest, musically, to Goldfrapp’s debut record; and that’s not saying all that much; it’s still musically very different from Felt Mountain. Allison’s vocals are as vampish and seductive as ever, but the track, again, is completely electronic. While Felt Mountain had a somewhat warm, jazzy, and organic feel to it, there’s something oddly cold, emotionless, and detached about Black Cherry, despite the provocative nature of Allison Goldfrapp’s sultry vocals.

“Tiptoe,” the fourth track, is actually a quite brilliant synth-pop number. A circa-1983-sounding synth-pop duet of sorts, there’s a male-female vocal interplay à la Berlin, The Human League, ABC, etc. Black Cherry’s sixth track, “Hairy Trees,” uncannily utilizes the same annoying treated, synthesized vocals prominently featured on recent efforts by Cher and Madonna””you know, the kind of horrid pseudo-Eurotrash music you hear on the overhead speakers when your wife (or girlfriend, for you youngsters) drags you into The Limited? “Slippage,” the final track, is actually quite an eerie song, featuring spooky atmospheric effects that sound like a choir of distorted theremins, and Goldfrapp’s haunted, pained howling.

Look, I have nothing against innovation. In my opinion, bands must continually evolve in order to remain fresh and relevant. But this doesn’t sound like Goldfrapp. It sounds like a different band altogether, with the exception of Allison’s consistently lovely voice. I was always struck and smitten by the erotic sophistication of Felt Mountain, a happy medium between lounge music and what was then called trip-hop; the album was a laid-back masterpiece that lent itself to repeated listenings. Had Black Cherry been an instrumental record, I would never have guessed it was Goldfrapp, not in a million years. Pretentious and unashamedly retro, Black Cherry shows Goldfrapp to be self-consciously emulating the current wave of 80s synth-pop clone bands, starting with the album cover itself. The Faint’s Blank-Wave Arcade and Danse Macabre were stunningly fresh and creative when they were released””several years ago. Since that time I’ve heard any number of neo-synth-pop groups trying desperately and in vain to capture that freshness. I fear that Goldfrapp’s new record might have fared better had the band decided to stick to the tried and true formula which worked so well on Felt Mountain. Black Cherry, despite a few interesting moments, is likely to soon to be forgotten.

1. Crystalline Green
2. Train
3. Black Cherry
4. Tiptoe
5. Deep Honey
6. Hairy Trees
7. Twist
8. Strict Machine
9. Forever
10. Slippage