Following every good party, there’s always a comedown. After Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory created the sleaziest, sexiest and downright dirtiest party imaginable with their third album Supernature, it’s inevitable that the follow up would be something of a volte-face.
Supernature was Goldfrapp’s breakthrough album and defined Alison as a leading exponent of ‘pervtronica’ (especially when dressed as some kind of dominatrix and attempting to have sex with a theremin). The sound of the album was so influential that even pop poppet Rachel Stevens made a Goldfrapp-soundalike single with Some Girls.
Seventh Tree is the equivalent of a spring clean – out goes the thumping electro beats and thinly veiled allusions to sexuality, and in comes autumnal, pastoral folk, orchestral ballads, and pretty little songs about heartbreak. It’s not a complete change of direction (indeed, at times it’s rather reminiscent of their debut Felt Mountain), but it’s sure to make more recent fans slightly befuddled.
Clowns is a brave opening track – it’s the polar opposite of Strict Machine and Ooh La La, as acoustic guitars are gently plucked, strings float around beautifully and Alison appears to sing in Sigur Rós‘ made up language of Hopelandic. It’s more of an atmospheric mood-piece than an attention-grabber and it works quite beautifully.
That’s not to say that Goldfrapp and Gregory have lost their songwriting touch of course. Caravan Girl is so joyful you want to dance along with its driving piano riff, while Road To Somewhere is a blissfully languid ballad which recalls the best moments of Zero 7. Goldfrapp’s voice too sounds better than ever, warm and sensual, with more than a nod to Kate Bush at times.
There’s also a deep sense of sadness hanging over the album. Possibly the most poppy moment, the single A&E, deals with the aftermath of a suicide attempt and has some beautifully dark lyrics. There’s also a sinister dark edge to Happiness, which appears to be about brainwashing cults (“Join our group and you will find harmony and peace of mind, make it better, we’re here to welcome you”).
Even they pale in comparison with Eat Yourself though – there may be a hint of emo to the title, but it’s a heartbreaker of a track, another lovely ballad with seriously downbeat lyrics (“How can I love you when I know you don’t love me?”).
The early Goldfrapp days of Felt Mountain are brought to mind on the orchestral flourishes of Cologne Cerrone Houdini, but its previously untrodden areas like the outstanding Little Bird that really impress. On the latter, there are even hints of the Cocteau Twins, particularly with Alison’s somewhat ethereal vocals.
Seventh Tree may well divide Goldfrapp fans. Some will lament the loss of disco-electro and the fact that all of the tracks on here are a lot less immediate than on its predecessors. Yet after a couple of listens it reveals itself as Goldfrapp’s most subtle, affecting and rewarding album to date.