Only the most fervent fans of Reggie Yates’ Radio 1 chart show could straight-facedly argue that the singles charts still matter as much as they used to. That said, it must still be pretty galling for a pop act to discover that their comeback single has entered the charts at Number 47. It must be especially galling when that comeback single is a pop song extraordinaire – packed with hooks, instantly appealing and addictively replayable. But that’s precisely what happened earlier this month to Goldfrapp’s Rocket, the first single off their fifth album Head First.
The lack of radio support probably didn’t help Rocket’s cause. At the time of writing it had received just a single play on Radio 1. But then Goldfrapp, though popular, have always been a tricky bunch. Their four albums before this one have run a jagged musical course. They had a musical re-think after just one album, jettisoning the cinematic, vaguely trip-hoppy stylings of debut Felt Mountain in favour of the stern-sounding glitterpop of Black Cherry. This did them for one more LP – 2005’s big-selling Supernature – before they took another left turn with the Wicker Man-influenced folktronica of 2008’s Seventh Tree.
Head First initially suggests another sideways career move. The few people who picked up a copy of Rocket in HMV will have noticed Alison Goldfrapp wearing a pink jumpsuit on its cover. The single itself unashamedly borrows the synth sound from Van Halen‘s majestic Jump – the ne plus ultra of ’80s stadium pop. It all points to a foray into the ’80s-influenced synth pop recently popularised again by the likes of La Roux and Little Boots.
But Head First isn’t really a retrograde exercise in I Love The ’80s nostalgia. Pop-savvy listeners over the age of 30 might have some fun spotting the musical references that are dotted here and there – Alive uses the same over-excited keyboard noise that’s found on The Human League‘s Together In Electric Dreams, while Steve Lillywhite’s patented ‘gated’ drum sound pops up on a few occasions – but, overall, this is a slick, unselfconscious pop album. It feels unburdened by any form of agenda, and the result is Goldfrapp’s most relaxed-sounding record to date.
Rocket opens proceedings and, while the eight tracks which follow don’t achieve quite the same, er, lift-off, each one offers pleasure of varying degrees. Unlike those on Supernature or Black Cherry, the synthesizers on Head First are light and breezy rather than heavy and metallic. Believer, with its metronomic Italo disco-esque pulse, is the most likely second single. The title track evokes a loved-up, carefree atmosphere that recalls Abba‘s I Have A Dream.
There are a couple of occasions when Goldfrapp’s new relaxed attitude shades into lazy songwriting: Dreaming and Hunt are bland. But overall Head First is skilful pop designed for adults. It may not find favour on the Radio 1 playlist, but it’s likely to enjoy ‘heavy rotation’ (or whatever the phrase is these days) in any purchaser’s household.